SAC Football: Carson-Newman 41, Catawba 31
By Bret Strelow
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. ó Eric Morman bobbled the pass and attempted to secure possession while absorbing contact from two Carson-Newman defenders.
An official raced in to signal a catch as Morman rose to his feet with a displaced Catawba helmet in his hand.
The Indians were satisfied with their effort, but not the end result.
Patrick Dennis threw for 311 yards in relief of injured starter Cam Sexton and Morman tied a school record with 13 receptions during a 41-31 loss to Carson-Newman at Burke-Tarr Stadium on Saturday.
Catawba, which followed a 3-0 start with setbacks against Mars Hill and Newberry, fell to 0-3 in SAC play for the first time since 1986. It’s the program’s first three-game losing streak since 1994.
“We’ve got some more conference games coming up, and we have to come ready to get back out there,” said Dennis, who completed 26 passes in 37 attempts. “I was extremely pleased with our intensity today. I felt like we had a good week of practice, and this was not a lack-of-effort loss by any means.
“Ultimately it is a loss, and you can only take so much positive out of it. It’s bittersweet, but really not too sweet. More bitter than sweet.”
Dennis found Brandon Bunn for two touchdowns and also connected with Morman, who finished with 128 receiving yards. Carson-Newman quarterback Alex Good had four TD passes and accounted for 179 of his team’s 359 rushing yards.
Catawba was ahead 17-13 entering the fourth quarter of a game that featured seven lead changes. The Eagles (5-2, 3-0 SAC) jumped in front 34-31 on Reggie Hubbard’s 48-yard touchdown reception with 3:51 remaining, and the Indians reached Carson-Newman’s 39 with 2:30 left.
A third-and-4 pass fell incomplete, and Dennis dropped back to throw on fourth down. Unable to find an open receiver and forced to step up in the pocket, his scramble came up 2 yards short.
Good scored two plays later on a 55-yard option keeper.
“If we play at that level of intensity and execute a little bit better, then we’ll have a chance to win going down the stretch, but it’s not going to get easy,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “If we don’t and give up, we definitely won’t have a chance to win ballgames.”
Catawba trailed 7-3 in the second quarter when Sexton, who went 11-of-18 passing for 77 yards, delivered a handoff to running back Josh Wright. Carson-Newman linebacker Donte Strickland hit Sexton late and drew a flag for a personal foul.
Sexton remained on the ground for several minutes and missed the rest of the game because of a possible concussion.
Dennis took over with 9:16 left in the half and capped that series with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Morman, who matched Brent Johnson’s reception total from a 55-49 win at Carson-Newman in 2007.
“After you take two losses, you’re fired up, ready to go,” Morman said.
Bunn’s first touchdown pushed Catawba ahead by four points late in the third quarter, and Good threw a pair of TD passes in the first six minutes of the fourth period.
Facing a 27-17 deficit, the Indians excelled in their two-minute offense. Dennis hit Bunn for an 8-yard score with 6:59 left, and a squibbed kickoff took a high bounce in front of Carson-Newman’s Buck Wakefield at the 24. Catawba’s Jaspen Gray, running downfield at full speed, jumped to seize the ball out of mid-air.
“I saw him bobble it when he went up for it, so I tried to just surround my body around the ball,” Gray said.
A penalty for offensive interference negated a gain to the 1 and pushed Catawba back to the 39. Morman made a 13-yard reception, and Gerron Bryant outjumped two defenders at the 3 for a clutch third-down catch.
Antonio Hall scored with 5:24 left to give the Indians their final advantage.
“It reminded me a lot of ’07,” Dennis said. “I was a redshirt freshman back then, but the atmosphere of going back and forth, with two real good teams just going at it. They had a little bit more than us today.”
NOTES: Catawba linebacker Julian Samolu (West Rowan) suffered an ankle injury early in the game and was later in a walking boot. … Bryant had four catches for 98 yards, with a long of 41. … Brandon Sutton blocked a field goal and extra point. He also had a critical fumble recovery at the Catawba 6 early in the third quarter. Colby McCanna’s 53-yard punt from the end zone flipped field position.