SAC Football: Catawba still struggling
By Mike London
There are two things you can count on from Catawba football coach Chip Hester ó decency and honesty.
When he said after Saturday’s 42-17 loss to Wingate that Catawba wasn’t a good team, he meant it, and that painful statement was on target, as much as people hated hearing it.
Hester is no stranger to good football. He was an assistant on monster teams from 1999-2001 when Catawba was a national power. He was head coach of a marvelous machine in 2007.
But things aren’t good now. Throw out a 51-0 romp against winless Livingstone and the Indians’ stat sheet gets mighty ugly in a hurry.
This is a program that believes in running the ball and stopping the run, but Catawba isn’t doing either. Catawba is seventh in the SAC in rushing.
It’s also seventh in rushing yards allowed, and it’s hard to believe the Indians aren’t eighth out of eight. They made legends out of Mars Hill’s Jonas Randolph and Newberry’s S.J. Worrell in previous home games, and they made Wingate’s Vince Jordan a Hall of Famer on Saturday. The sophomore carried 17 times for 160 yards.
Catawba still leads the SAC when it comes to sacking quarterbacks with 32 takedowns. Wilbur Pender contributed two more on Saturday.
Melquan Fair, Julian Hartsell and Brandon Sutton are still getting after it upfront, while middle linebacker Lakeem Perry ranks sixth in the league with 55 tackles.
Still, the defense, as a group, hasn’t stopped anyone since SAC play started.
Wingate scored breezily and easily the first two times it touched the ball Saturday. When that happens, the offensive gameplan gets tossed out the window. Catawba wanted to run the ball and control the clock, but that’s tough to do when it’s 14-3 right away.
Injuries have hurt, especially the torn ACL that erased Marqus Davis. Davis had eight sacks in the first three games and was headed for a long list of postseason honors. Opposing offenses breathed a sigh of relief when he went down.
Injuries on the offensive line, particularly a pair of them to the hub, center Zane Gibson, have factored into Catawba’s struggles to run the ball and to protect the quarterback. The Indians have allowed 26 sacks. In that category, they also rank seventh in the league.
The offensive high points have been receiver Brandon Bunn (11 TDs) and quarterback Patrick Dennis. At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Dennis doesn’t look heroic, but he’s made the Indians watchable.
The plan was for him not to do anything except hold for PATs and field goals and mop up for starting QB Cam Sexton, but Sexton’s multiple injuries changed all that.
Dennis, the SAC’s No. 5 passer as a soph part-timer in 2008, didn’t sulk, pout or transfer when Sexton arrived and ignited a media circus He just kept preparing like he was still the starter. Now he is.
Dennis still remains invisible in the official SAC stats for some reason, but for the record, he’s passed for 1,125 yards and 12 touchdowns in five games, with only four interceptions. He’s an admirable individual playing at a high level.
Catawba plays at Brevard this Saturday and plays host to Lenoir-Rhyne on Nov. 7 in the season finale. Players vowed Saturday not to pack it in and to keep fighting for the seniors and the coaches.
At stake is the program’s 15th straight winning season. That’s a lot to play for.
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