SAC Football: Wingate 51, Catawba 41
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Catawba traded baskets — sorry, make that touchdowns — with Wingate on a sun-splashed afternoon that reminded a huge crowd that hoops season is just around the corner.
Wingate’s 51-41 victory over the Indians on homecoming at Shuford Stadium was as wild as it sounds. There were 51 first downs, 920 yards of offense and only three punts.
Despite a monster day by quarterback Jacob Charest, reeling Catawba (2-6, 1-4) is no longer playing for anything except respect and to escape the SAC cellar.
“We’re making a lot of plays, but we’re also giving up a lot of plays,” receiver Nate Charest said quietly. “The toughest thing about it is this is two weeks in a row that we just haven’t been able to finish.”
Wingate (5-3, 4-1) overcame three lost fumbles and moved into a first-place tie in the SAC with Mars Hill, a lopsided loser against Lenoir-Rhyne.
“To an extent, this game was just what we expected,” Wingate coach Joe Reich said. “We could see on film that Catawba is improving offensively and starting to find their stride, and it’s not like we’ve been lighting it up on defense this year. We knew we’d have to score a bunch of points to win.”
Wingate QB Cody Haffly was super — 321 passing yards, four TDs — and that was enough to overcome Jacob Charest’s huge effort. With Catawba in a hole almost all day, he had to throw 58 times. He completed 35 to 11 different receivers for 384 yards and added three rushing TDs on 1-yard sneaks.
The yardage tally tied him for the fourth-best passing game in school history.
“Jacob and our offensive line were in a tough position today, having to throw it as much as we did,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “Jacob showed an awful lot of physical toughness.”
Nate Charest, Jacob’s younger brother, had eight catches for 146 yards, including a one-handed snag that was NFL-worthy. Eric Morman hauled in nine receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Believe it or not, Catawba’s defense also had its moments. The Indians forced fumbles four times with jarring hits, including two by safety Casey Hall. They pounced on three of them. C.J. Barksdale and Jacob Hanes accounted for sacks of Haffly, and one of Lakeem Perry’s 12 rugged tackles knocked a dazed Bulldog almost to Spencer.
“But we just had too many mental breakdowns,” said Catawba defensive lineman Damein Lee. “It’s on the defense today. We had so many chances to sack their quarterback, but we’d let him weasel out and he’d make a play.”
Haffly’s not really a runner, but he is elusive. He bought just enough time with his legs to use his lethal arm.
“We think Haffly is one of a kind,” Reich said. “He’s been playing lights out all year, and I’ve just kind of run out of superlatives to say about him. He makes great decisions and great throws.”
Both coaches agreed the turning point came early when Catawba called on Thomas Trexler for a 43-yard field goal with the score 7-7.
Wingate’s Warren Brown deflected the attempt, and Jarvis Smith caught it at the Wingate 20 like a shortstop waiting patiently for a pop fly.
Reich expected the safety to just fall down with the ball. Apparently so did the Indians.
But all at once, Smith was rumbling across the field and picking up blocks. And suddenly, Trexler was the last guy with a chance to stop him. Trexler is considerably more physical than most kickers and has made numerous last-man tackles on kickoffs in his career. He took a good shot at Smith’s legs. Smith staggered but didn’t fall. Then he headed for the house.
“That play ought not to have been as big a problem as it became,” Hester said.
It meant a 10-point swing. Three Catawba didn’t get; seven the Bulldogs did. Instead of going up 10-7, the Indians trailed 14-7. They tried to play catch-up and throw-it-around the remainder of the marathon afternoon.
Catawba didn’t have All-SAC deep snapper D.J. Davis available. That contributed to a mishap on a punt attempt that handed the Bulldogs the ball on the Catawba 11 — and another easy seven points.
It was 37-24 at halftime, and the Indians never seriously threatened the Dogs’ lead.
“We needed to play well in every aspect to beat Wingate,” Hester said. “But we’re still finding ways to make mistakes instead of finding ways to win ballgames.”