SAC football: Newberry 40, Catawba 21
By Mike London
Beads of sweaty disappointment dripped down the cheeks of Catawba All-American Melquan Fair after a 40-21 loss to SAC rival Newberry on a homecoming Saturday.
Fair stomped 46 yards for a touchdown after scooping a fourth-quarter fumble. He lived a defensive lineman’s wildest dream, but most of the events that occurred at sun-drenched Shuford Stadium were of the nightmare variety.
“A disappointing day, but we’ve got some strong individuals on this team,” Fair said. “We’ll keep fighting.”
Had Saturday’s contest been a prizefight, referees would have stepped in, sent Newberry to a neutral corner and awarded the visitors a TKO before the second quarter ended.
Head coach Chip Hester readily admitted the score was closer than the game. Catawba (3-2, 0-2) took a beating. No two ways about it.
“I got out-coached, and they out-played us and out-athleted us,” Hester said. “We had the opportunities, but we didn’t make any plays. We’ve got to put some drives together, get some first downs, control the ball. Our defense can’t play every play.”
Catawba’s sins were numerous. Couldn’t tackle. Couldn’t run the ball. Couldn’t protect the quarterback.
“We just got beat,” safety Jaspen Gray said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
Catawba won the kicking game, but every offensive and defensive stat showed Newberry’s dominance. Catawba quarterback Cam Sexton, the North Carolina transfer, was sacked seven times and harassed into an interception and a fumble.
Catawba was a dismal 2-for-12 moving the chains on third down. It also was out-rushed 329-44, and that’s not a typo.
“Our kids have been hoping, searching, trying to find a way to play a complete game,” first-year Newberry coach Todd Knight said. “We’ve had several good halves. Today, we put a whole game together.”
Catawba produced its only substantial offense in the first quarter, breezing 60 yards in five plays to forge a 7-7 tie. Sexton looked sharp, zipping passes of 22 yards to wideout Gerron Bryant and 15 to tight end Grayson Downs to key the drive. Antonio Hall got the touchdown from the 4.
Shootout turned blowout when Newberry (3-2, 1-1) rolled to three unanswered scores in the second quarter for a 28-7 halftime lead. Catawba was outgained 316-102 the first two quarters.
Catalysts for Newberry were elusive quarterback Brandon Gantt (211 passing yards), wideout Brandon Bostick (104 receiving yards) and hard-nosed running back T.J. Worrell, who finished with the second-best rushing game in school history. He carried 19 times for 237 yards.
Catawba couldn’t bring Worrell down.
“Tackling has been the problem the last couple games,” Gray said. “We’re not missing many assignments. We’re in good position. It’s a matter of not wrapping up.”
Dozens of missed Catawba tackles helped Mars Hill’s Jonas Randolph earn SAC honors last week following the Lions’ 14-12 victory. Worrell is a likely honoree this week.
“What happened against Mars Hill in the rain and mud, we looked at that as a fluke,” defensive lineman Brandon Sutton said. “But we found out today Mars Hill wasn’t a fluke. We did tackling circuits all week long, but we still didn’t tackle. We’ve got to respect opposing quarterbacks and running backs a lot more. This isn’t high school. This is the SAC. Those guys are not going to go down on the first hit. We’ve got to wrap up and run through them.”
Catawba showed life early in the third quarter when Gray blocked a punt and James Collins recovered at the Newberry 2.
“Eric Morman was on the outside and, when their guy pulled out to block him, it gave me a lane to get in there,” Gray explained.
Josh Wright punched the ball into the end zone, Thomas Trexler’s PAT made it 28-14, and Catawba fans were thinking miracle comeback. When Casey Hall pilfered a pass to put the offense back on the field, it seemed possible.
Catawba had second-and-5 at the Newberry 36 when linebacker Andre Moyd turned in of the game’s biggest plays. He sacked Sexton for a 13-yard loss, forced a fumble on a wicked hit and recovered the ball himself.
“Looking on film, Catawba’s offensive line looked to be one of the most experienced and best we’ll face, and Sexton is a live-armed Division I guy who can really sling it,” Knight said. “But a defensive back’s best friend is a pass rush, and we were able to bring strong pressure. Maybe we just had a really good day and Catawba’s offensive line had a bad day.”
With 3:17 left in the third quarter, Worrell supplied the backbreaker, rambling through, around and over Indians on a 61-yard jaunt for a touchdown.
It was 34-14. The only mystery left was how ugly the final score would be.
“We knew this would be a tough matchup for us against a team with lots of experience and talent,” Hester said. “The frustrating part is we weren’t ready to play. We’ve got to find some way to get ready.”
It doesn’t get any easier. The Indians visit Carson-Newman next Saturday.
NOTES: Sexton was 8-of-25 passing for 122 yards. He had two nice runs on designed plays, but with all the sacks, he had minus-37 yards rushing. … Catawba linebacker Lakeem Perry made 11 tackles. … Fair accounted for two QB hurries and Catawba’s only sack. … Cornerback Bryant Vennable had a pick. … Center Zane Gibson dressed but did not play. He expects to return next week.