SAC Football: Wingate 42, Catawba 17
By Mike London
On a positive note, the weather was beautiful and Catawba’s cross country team had a good day.
As far as the stuff that transpired inside Shuford Stadium, the Indians would love to toss Saturday’s main event in the nearest dumpster and pretend it never happened. They were manhandled 42-17 by Wingate.
“That wasn’t how we wanted it to go, and Wingate dictated that,” coach Chip Hester said. “They’re a good team. Right now, we’re not. We can’t tackle. We can’t make plays.”
Patrick Dennis connected with Brandon Bunn for two more touchdowns, but those plays were the only reasons to cheer.
At least it was a team effort. Catawba struggled on both sides of the ball.
“We had a lot of mental errors,” Catawba defensive lineman Julian Hartsell said. “Wingate outplayed us, but it was all mental. This wasn’t a physical thing because we actually matched up with them well.”
Wingate (6-2, 4-1 SAC) didn’t need friendly bounces, hurricane winds or controversial calls. After spotting Catawba an early field goal, the Bulldogs thoroughly dominated.
Cody Haffly threw for 234 yards and Vince Jordan rushed for 160 as Wingate racked up 518 yards of offense. The Bulldogs steamrolled the Indians (4-4, 1-4) for a 21-10 halftime lead and weren’t threatened in the second half.
Ailments were part of it. The Indians are a M.A.S.H. unit, with setbacks to defensive standouts Marqus Davis, Julian Samolu and Kewone Harris the most pressing issue.
The offensive line is battered.
“No excuses, but you can’t gameplan for injuries,” Dennis said. “We had an All-American (left tackle Terence Crosby) go down today, our starting center is down and we’ve got a left guard down. We’ve got young guys in there busting their tails, doing the best they can, but they’re being thrown right into the flames.”
After Catawba was burned by Haffly’s 75-yard TD pass to Antonio Cotton, it trailed 14-3 late in the first quarter.
Dennis tried to turn it around, hanging tough and sticking a 30-yard TD pass in the arms of Bunn even as he was buried by blitzing linebacker Ben Hinson.
“I saw the blitz coming and knew the route Bunn would run if they blitzed,” Dennis said. “I knew he’d be working on a safety one-on-one and I put it up there. I never saw him catch it, but I heard the crowd roar. (Center) Daylon McAlexander picked me up and told me we scored.”
It was 28-10 late in the third quarter when Dennis rolled right and found Bunn for a 41-yard scoring play. It was the junior’s 11th TD of the season and 20th of his career.
Catawba’s season record of 14 TD grabs was set by Ike Hill in 1968. Nick Means, who finished in 2002, holds the career mark with 25.
“That second touchdown I really thought was going to be the thing to get us back into it,” Bunn said. “I was thinking here’s where we start our comeback, just like at Tusculum, but it didn’t happen. We could move the ball, but every time we’d get on their side of the field the drive would stall. Why we stalled, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you it’s not the coaches, it’s the players. “The coaches are putting us in very good position, but we’re not executing.”
It was officially over after Nelson Woods scored on a 2-yard run early in the fourth quarter to make it 35-17.
Catawba netted a meager 60 rushing yards, mostly because Wingate scored on its first two possessions and put the Indians in an early hole. Dennis had to throw, and the Bulldogs came after him. He was sacked three times and crunched often, but he passed for 211 yards.
“We had an excellent gameplan going in,” Dennis said. “Wingate is aggressive and we wanted to use their aggressiveness against them with our running game and play-action passes. But then we got down a little bit. That put us in sling-mode.”
It was a huge win for coach Joe Reich’s Bulldogs, who have beaten the Indians two in a row and four out of six. Wingate entered Saturday ranked 10th in the region.
“We were coming off a disastrous home loss to Newberry with multiple turnovers and 16 penalties so it was great for us to not turn it over and to execute against a program we have a great deal of respect for,” Reich said. “This keeps us in the hunt for the playoffs and the conference.”
If Catawba still entertained any dreams of postseason play they were officially ended by Saturday’s loss.
“There’s still a lot to play for,” Hester said. “We can still have a winning season, but we have to get the 11 who we put out there playing better than they are right now.”
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