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College football: Catawba tries to pick up the pieces

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
The Catawba notebook …
SALISBURY — Catawba lost 30-5 to St. Augustine’s in Saturday’s opener, with the only points coming on a field goal following a fumble recovery at the St. Aug’s 7 and a special-teams safety.
It was a dismal day for the offensive unit. Not surprisingly Catawba’s offensive player of the week was the dreaded “None Named.”
“Looking at the film, we were just as bad on offense as it looked Saturday,” coach Chip Hester said. “We just didn’t do a lot of things right. I’m the guy calling the plays, so it was very disappointing and very frustrating.”
There were a lot of brutal ominous stats, with 6-for-19 on third-down conversions (31 percent) and 23 rushing attempts for just 43 yards, heading the list.
Catawba identifies “explosive plays” as pass plays of 20 or more yards and rushes of 10 or more yards. On 74 offensive snaps Saturday, the Indians managed one explosive play — a 21-yard completion from QB Jacob Charest to his brother Nate, a sophomore slot receiver.
“Every defense is going to make some good plays against you, but we just didn’t play fast enough,” Hester said. “We looked all out of sorts on offense. We couldn’t get of our own way.”
Hester said it was a lot of seemingly small errors that compounded into disaster — a receiver going 3 yards on a route instead of the prescribed 5 or going inside a defender instead of outside. Or maybe a lineman taking one step left instead of right.
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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Hester said the team hopefully learned a valuable lesson after the blown-assignments-filled opener.
“How you practice has a direct impact on how you play,” he said, implying that some practices had been less than optimal. “If Monday’s practice is any indication, we did learn something. We had very good intensity and effort. I want us to be fighters. I want us to compete — and I saw more of that.”
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CORY STORY: Linebacker Cory Johnson was named defensive player of the week.
The junior from Fayetteville made a team-high 11 tackles and spearheaded the effort that held the Falcons to minus-24 rushing yards.
“Our run defense was stout,” Hester said. “When you stop the run like that it means your linebackers are really playing well. Cory was all over the place, playing at a very high level.”
Johnson’s individual performance meant little to him in light of overall struggle.
“We didn’t play to our potential, didn’t execute, myself included,” Johnson said. “We played pretty well defensively in the first half and the bright spot was the play of some of our young defensive linemen. (Linebacker) Lakeem Perry played well and (defensive lineman) Damein Lee had a very strong game.”
The shortcoming defensively was failing to get third-down stops. St. Aug’s was a solid 9-for-18 moving the chains on third down.
The defense was placed in bad positions frequently in the third quarter by offensive turnovers, and St. Aug’s cashed in three TDs in 10 minutes to blow it open.
“The defense can’t control when we come onto the field, but we can control when we get off it,” Johnson said. “No excuses. St. Aug’s just outplayed us — outplayed us in every phase.”
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KICKING GAME: Punter T.J. Morrison, a newcomer to the program, was named special teams player of the week.
The Western Carolina transfer averaged 41.2 yards on six kicks, with substantial hangtime that aided solid coverage.
“He jumped right in there in his first game, and that was with St. Aug’s bringing a lot of pressure on some of those punts,” Hester said. “It’s not like he was taking his time, holding it and twisting it to get the laces just right. He performed very well.”
Morrison, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound redshirt freshman, began his career at East Forsyth High in Kernersville as a wide receiver but was concentrating on punting by his sophomore year.
Catawba recruited him vigorously out of high school, but he opted to go to Western as a preferred walk-on.
“I wanted to give D-I a shot,” he explained. “But the second or third week of the season, we got blown out by (SAC team) Tusculum. That opened my eyes and I started to rethink things. By November, I was calling Catawba and asking to make a visit.”
Morrison should have plenty of productive Saturdays in his future.
“That first game was very exciting,” he said. “Just wish the team could have done better.”
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TOUGH TASK: Obviously, it gets even tougher for the Indians this Saturday when they travel to Coastal Carolina for a 7 p.m. game against a program built by former Catawba coach David Bennett and many assistants who once wore Catawba blue.
Coastal, an FCS program, beat Southern Conference squad Furman 30-23 in its impressive season opener.
“Our hands are full, no question,” Hester said. “On film, Coastal is awfully impressive athletically. Their offensive line is huge. They have nine defensive starters back, and it’s not like they had an average defense last year. They’ve got size, speed, great players. They’ve got a tight end (preseason All-America David Duran is 6-5, 250, and transferred from Michigan State) and a cornerback (Josh Norman) who are NFL prospects.”
The disparity in scholarships makes the game an uphill battle for the Indians.
Coastal has 63 available scholarships. Hester explained that while Division II schools have a 36-scholarship limit, Catawba has just 25 to give.
“We look at this as a great opportunity for our guys to compete,” Hester said. “A lot of our guys were overlooked by D-I schools. They have an opportunity to prove something.”
Catawba has nothing to lose, and there’s every expectation the Indians will play more efficiently than in Week 1.
“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “But I’m excited every week of football season.”

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