College football: Catawba loss a muddy mess
By Mike London
Catawba sports information director Jim Lewis has been around many years, but a 7-6 loss at Brevard on Saturday provided the stiffest challenge of his stat-filled career.
Miserable field conditions at Brevard Memorial Stadium, the high school field used by the Tornados, reduced a scheduled SAC football game to a mud- wrestling competition conducted in pads and helmets rather than bikinis and beer.
Even before the opening kickoff, the area between the 25-yard lines deteriorated into a primordial swamp from which Lewis fully expected alligators, snakes or perhaps a long-necked Apatosaurus to emerge.
In the mountains, it’s been an exceptionally soggy fall. No grass fields have held up well. With constant rain and steady use, Brevard’s field hasn’t had any chance at all to heal.
“They had a middle school game on that field Wednesday, two soccer games on Thursday and high school football on Friday,” Lewis said. “It was torn up before our game even started.”
Lewis isn’t paid to complain, so he conducted business as usual despite the formidable obstacles provided by Mother Nature.
“If you closed the windows in the pressbox, you couldn’t see anything,” Lewis said. “If you opened the windows, the rain blew in all over you.”
Conditions were tough.
Catawba coach Chip Hester saw linebackers transformed into mobile mounds of sludge with only eyeballs poking through to reveal traces of humanity. Think Sly Stallone cleverly concealed in that mudbank in “First Blood II: Rambo.”
Catawba quarterback Patrick Dennis actually had to come out of the game just to be, as Lewis described it, “toweled off and cleaned up.”
As all yard markers, jersey numerals ó and sanity ó disappeared in the brown gunk, it was left up to Lewis to determine if Catawba’s No. 93 made a tackle for a 1-yard loss ó or was it No. 96?
Or No. 92? Who knew?
Lewis also had to decide if that unidentified lump of muck oozing downfield for a gain of approximately 4 yards was Levon Curtis or Antonio Hall. Catawba’s running backs have different body types. Curtis is 15 pounds heavier. That weight differential provided Lewis’ only clue.
The stats were finally dutifully recorded by Lewis, as always. The Indians led most of the way but lost on a blocked punt, plus Brevard’s execution of what had to be one of the more challenging PATs in gridiron history.
Catawba allowed four first downs and one completed pass and still lost, but Hester opted to take the high road in his comments at Tuesday’s press conference at Pub 1504.
“Had we won it, I might have a few things to say, but we didn’t win,” he said. “Excuses are just a way of justifying failure. We’re not gonna do that.”
Curtis, who netted 85 yards rushing on 21 carries and added 40 yards on two punt returns, is the team’s offensive player of the week.
“I thought I’d played in mud before, but Saturday it was mud up to my ankles at some places,” Curtis said. “I don’t know how I ran the ball, but I did what I had to do. There were times I tried to cut and slipped, but most of the time I was able to keep my feet moving, and I broke a few tackles. We all feel like it’s game we should have won, but no excuses.”
Catawba outside linebacker Cory Johnson, a starter as a true freshman, was named defensive player of the week. He made 10 sloshy tackles to tie fellow backer Lakeem Perry for the team lead on the season with 57. He also declined an opportunity to gripe.
“I felt like my feet were in soup and I really couldn’t move, but both teams had to play in those same conditions,” Johnson said.
While this season has deteriorated into something almost as miserable as Brevard’s Mud Bowl, players such as Johnson and Curtis, a sophomore transfer from Western Carolina, offer hope for a quick turnaround.
Both have played in state championship games. Curtis accounted for five TDs in leading Western Alamance to a 2007 victory in the 3A title tilt, while Johnson starred for Fayetteville Jack Britt in a 4AA overtime loss to Richmond County in 2008.
Britt alumnus George Bell, who played at Catawba, put in a good word for the Indians with Johnson. He also was impressed by Catawba linebackers coach Todd McComb.
“Catawba was the place that seemed to want me most,” Johnson said. “They made me feel like I was their No. 1 guy.”
Curtis started games as a freshman at Western Carolina, but he found the football program too regimented.
“Almost like the military, getting up at 5:30 to lift weights,” he said. “I’d always liked Catawba, my coach (Hal Capps) called them, and I transferred. I like it here. Yeah, it’s been a tough year, but we were 3-9 when I was at Western.”
Curtis and Johnson both expected to win big at Catawba the way they did in high school, but nothing has clicked in 2009. It’s been a year of constant sorrow.
Saturday’s maddening mess just iced the cake.
“We still need to beat Lenoir-Rhyne Saturday, need to win that last game for the seniors who brought a conference championship (in 2007) to this program,” Johnson said. “To me, 5-5 sounds a lot better than 4-6.”
Hester praised Curtis and Johnson. He called Curtis “physical and dynamic.” He said Johnson has all the tools and is a “young leader who’s found a comfort zone.”
No one was comfortable in Saturday’s debacle. Not even the SID.
But the skies are supposed to be blue for L-R’s visit. Maybe Catawba will chase away the gloom and finish on a high note.
“Believe me,” said Hester, managing a weak smile. “I’ve already checked all the long-range weather forecasts.”
By Mike London firstname.lastname@example.org Area college update … In 2005, Jonathan Mayfield became the first 1,000-yard receiver in Davie history,... read more