Catawba follow: Finally, smiles at Shuford Stadium

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 2, 2011

By Mike London
SALISBURY ó The Catawba Pride Band chanted his name, and football coach Chip Hester couldnít suppress the grin creeping across his face in the aftermath of Saturdayís 42-33 win against UNC Pembroke.
It was a smile that had vanished from Shuford Stadium for nearly a year. To be precise, 51 long weeks had dragged by since Catawba had last tasted victory on Kirkland Field.
ěThis was a long time coming,î said always upbeat back Josh Wright, who scored a pair of touchdowns.
Catawbaís most recent Shuford victim had been Brevard on Oct. 9, 2010. Since then, the Indians had lost in front of the home folks to Carson-Newman, Tusculum and Newberry.
ěThere were games where we didnít make plays and games where we didnít get breaks,î Hester said. ěBut through it all, weíve kept fighting.î
Saturdayís gameball didnít go to Wright, who rushed for 180 yards, or to linebacker Cory Johnson, who had two game-changing plays, or to safety Casey Hall, who made 11 tackles, or to freshman receiver Tyler Hamilton, who pulled off two superhero feats ó not only yanking down a pass in the end zone that originally appeared headed for Goodman Gym but putting on his cape and flying over three Braves for a pivotal punt block.
No, this gameball went to Dr. Joseph Oxendine, a Pembroke native who ventured to Catawba in the late 1940s to play sports and get an education. The chancellor emeritus of UNC Pembroke, Oxendine also is Catawbaís interim president.
His return to Salisbury had to be part of the reason Catawba and UNC Pembroke memorably got together on a football field for the first time.
Catawba fumbled five times but got three back, including one Wright temporarily misplaced on the UNCP 1 while trying to extend the ball to the goal line. Somehow when bodies untangled, Wright had possession. QB Jacob Charest scored moments later.
ěThe coaches tell us not to stretch the ball out like that,î Wright said. ěBut I wanted that TD so bad.î
In other words, Catawba finally got a few friendly bounces Saturday. Like Johnsonís fumble recovery when UNCP had first-and-goal at the 7.
ěJust a bad exchange,î he said. ěAnd I was right place, right time.î
UNCP coach Pete Shinnick watched his team pass for 362 yards and rush for 176, but his Braves were undermined by 14 penalties, three turnovers and that blocked punt.
ěWe just had too many mistakes,î he offered in his postgame comments. ěItís unfortunate because or guys fought really hard.î
Shinnick sounded an awful lot like Hester sounded in September.
But winning, even winning wild and crazy, makes it easy to smile.
ěWe need to play better and need to finish better,î Hester said. ěBut as far as the passion and energy we brought, I couldnít be any prouder.î