College Football: Catawba 41, Tusculum 27

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 18, 2009

By Bret Strelow
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. ó An unplanned rope-a-dope prevented Catawba from being knocked down deeper in the SAC standings.
The Indians recovered from a disappointing first half and posted a 41-27 victory against Tusculum at Pioneer Field on Saturday afternoon.
The teams entered the weekend with identical 0-3 league records, and Catawba took control during a dominant third quarter. Tusculum quarterback Bo Cordell threw for 392 yards, but the Indians (4-3, 1-3) sacked him 10 times.
“Big plays happen,” said defensive lineman Brandon Sutton, who led the way with three sacks and two quarterback hurries. “The question is: Can you bounce back in a fight? You got Muhammad Ali, he takes a lot of punches, and he always bounced back and wins. It’s kind of like that.
“We gave up some big plays as a team and we bounced back as a team.”
Tusculum (1-6, 0-4) maintained a 20-13 lead by making two goalline stands in the final six minutes of the first half.
Catawba’s Wilbur Pender forced a fumble on the second play of the third quarter, and Terrence Porter recovered the ball at Tusculum’s 36-yard line.
Junior quarterback Patrick Dennis (247 yards) threw touchdown passes to Gerron Bryant, Brandon Bunn and Grayson Downs on the Indians’ first three possessions of the half.
“It’s a frustrating situation to have eight opportunities inside the 10-yard line and get no points out of it,” Dennis said. “It’s frustrating, but I thought we rebounded really well. We used it as fuel at halftime.”
Catawba’s defense recorded six second-half sacks, including four in the third quarter. Sutton, Melquan Fair (21/2 sacks) and Arthur Cromartie (two sacks) did the most damage against Cordell, who attempted 50 passes.
Tusculum’s only second-half scoring drive followed Bunn’s 30-yard touchdown. The Pioneers tied the score at 27-all thanks to Calvin Britt’s 20-yard TD catch, and the Indians went ahead for good when Dennis hit Downs on a 15-yard strike with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter.
“We knew we’d come out and not be denied,” Downs said. “We were denied two times in the first half, and we weren’t going to let it happen again.”
A 1-yard sneak by Dennis provided an insurance touchdown with 6:58 left in the game.
That possession began after safety Cortez Best intercepted a pass at Catawba’s 15 and returned the ball close to midfield.
“They had been giving us double moves ó post-corners and corner-posts,” Best said. “When he decided to give me the move to the post, I took off running to the corner. They happened to throw the ball right there, and I got it like a receiver.
“I was just happy to make it back there. I thought that one was going kind of long.”
Fellow defensive back Jaspen Gray came up with Catawba’s third takeaway of the half when he intercepted a pass in the closing minutes. The Indians weren’t as opportunistic in the early going.
Cordell threw three TD passes in the first 20 minutes, and a 15-yard connection with Deont Gist broke a 13-all tie.
An interference penalty gave Catawba first-and-goal at the 2, and the Pioneers stuffed four running plays. The Indians started their next series at Tusculum’s 21 and had first-and-goal at the 6.
Two rushes advanced the ball to the 4, and two passes ó both fades ó fell incomplete.
“To have it happen twice, I thought it was a big momentum changer,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “I thought our guys showed a lot of character to be able to come back from that.”
The game ended, appropriately enough, with Sutton hurrying Cordell into one last incompletion.
Sutton raised both arms to celebrate Catawba’s first victory in more than a month, and the group responsible for the double-digit sack total cheerfully met with defensive line coach Khanis Hubbard.
“I’m happy,” Fair said, “but we can always get more sacks.”