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SAC Football: The Catawba Notebook

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
The Catawba notebook …
SALISBURY — Omar Craig has been recognized as Catawba Special Teams Player of the Week back-to-back, but Craig’s second award was a whole lot more fun.
Catawba traditionally hands out a thick pro wrestling-like belt to its weekly “special forces” honoree — but only if the team wins. Catawba beat Tusculum 23-21 on the road Saturday for its first victory, snapping a five-game losing skid dating to 2010, so Craig gets the belt.
The No. 3 running back on the depth chart, Craig produced a pair of tackles on punt coverage.
“He’s got a great skill set for special teams,” coach Chip Hester said. “He’s strong, he’s fast, and he can tackle.”
Craig grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., watching cousins Rodney Hope, who played for Catawba, and Chris Hope, a longtime safety for the Tennessee Titans.
Rock Hill is a football hotbed, and Craig had a chance to play in big-time prep games for Northwestern High, where he was a running back, corner and safety.
“I guess the biggest was my senior year against Rock Hill,” Craig said. “We were ranked first in the state, and they were second. We were 15th in the country and they were ranked 21st, and it was a huge game with both schools being in the same city. We won 14-9, I had 120 rushing yards and a TD and got player of the game.”
Craig headed to Victor Valley Community College in southern California and played there two years. He wanted to get back closer to home after that and picked Catawba from several offers.
“It was an easy decision since I had a family member play here,” he said. “I believe I made the right decision. It’s a strong program.”
Hester said he’s hoping for a three-peat for Craig when it comes to special teams honors. Catawba (1-3) is home against UNC Pembroke (3-1) on Saturday night.
“I hope he won’t give up that belt without a fight,” Hester said.
Scottie Floyd, who had a critical block of a fourth-quarter field goal, was also lauded for his special teams play.
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INJURIES: While Tusculum’s All-America quarterback Bo Cordell was listed as day-to-day with a foot injury, Hester said the Indians were aware by late in the week he wouldn’t be available to the Pioneers and prepared accordingly.
“Even without Bo, Tusculum has got a great system and a tremendous passing game, and the guy they plugged in at quarterback (Kyle Dickey) was excellent,” Hester said. “Injuries are part of football. They played without Bo, and he’s a great player, but we also played without two of our best — Nate Charest and L.J. McCray.”
Charest, the Indians’ top receiver, has been cleared to return from a concussion, but McCray’s rib injury could be a long-term concern.
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MORE AILMENTS: Center Daylon McAlexander, Catawba’s most experienced offensive lineman, hurt an ankle at Tusculum and is in a walking boot. Hester is still optimistic about McAlexander’s status for Saturday. If he can’t go, burly guard Kevin Alphonso will slide over to center as he did for the second half of the Tusculum game.
Corner Jumal Rolle played despite an ankle injury Saturday.
“He already had the respect of his teammates as a tough guy, and he fought through even though he was not 100 percent,” Hester said.
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RUSH HOUR: Catawba finally got its running game untracked Saturday, and that was critical. Josh Wright and Bobby Morrison combined for 126 net rushing yards.
“We went back to more of our traditional fullback and tight end on offense and we were determined to be more physical,” Hester said. “We got a good collective group effort from the offensive line. It was their best game.”
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SACKING THE SAC: Damein Lee, Cory Johnson, Phillip Ochieng, Dennis McFatten, Lakeem Perry and C.J. Barksdale contributed to Catawba’s parade of seven sacks on Saturday.
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COMING THROUGH: Mario Washington helped replace Charest and caught a TD pass. With three safeties hurting, special teams ace Chad Endres stepped in and more than held his own.
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VANDALS: There are deep gashes and ruts all over Catawba’s practice fields, an ugly gift from vehicular vandals. The rain made the situation worse, and the damage will be expensive to repair.

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