College Football: Catawba seniors seek strong finish
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Dreams of a perfect season disappeared in just a few ugly hours opening day at St. Augustine’s.
Plans for a magical return to the playoffs were history after a cruel blowout loss at Carson-Newman on Oct. 8 and optimistic ideas of making a late run in the SAC vanished on the goal line against Mars Hill the following week.
Even the idea of salvaging the respectability of a winning season — and those used to be so automatic no one fully appreciated them — ended on Oct. 22 with a homecoming setback against Wingate.
There are no breathers on this year’s schedule, and North Greenville piled more misery on Catawba last Saturday to the tune of 25-7. Now when the Indians look in the mirror they see 2-7 staring back.
“We all had high expectations,” senior cornerback Bryant Vennable said quietly. “I think we’ve come to play hard every Saturday, but we just haven’t met up with those expectations.”
Catawba showed what it was capable of when it whipped UNC Pembroke on Oct. 1, but the line between losing and winning is a fine one.
Since that upbeat Saturday, UNCP hasn’t lost and Catawba hasn’t won. It’s a strange game.
“It’s not any one thing that you can fix and know that everything’s suddenly going to be OK,” head coach Chip Hester said. “It’s been something different every week and that inconsistency has been frustrating. You’re sticking your thumb in the dam to plug one hole, and then another hole opens up. After a while, you’re running out of thumbs.”
Special teams have occasionally been spectacular, but Catawba has lost the ST battle more often than not.
At times, the offense has looked efficient. At times, the defense has looked ferocious. But finding a day when both units clicked simultaneously isn’t easy. There was the Pembroke game — and well, that’s about it.
Catawba lost 51-41 against Wingate, and 41 points has got to be enough to win. Seven days later at North Greenville, the defense contained one of the most talented teams Catawba has faced, but the Indians’ offense was invisible for three quarters.
“North Greenville was as good as we thought they’d be — and then some,” Hester said. “Other than Coastal Carolina, that’s the best personnel we’ve faced top to bottom. They had 6-foot-7 receivers making one-handed catches.”
On a personal basis, it’s been a good season for senior wideout Eric Morman. He has 40 catches for 342 yards.
The smooth veteran’s 124 receptions rank sixth in school history. He’s accumulated 1,330 yards and seven touchdowns.
But team-wise this has been a difficult season for Morman, one of the captains. He’s a guy the coaches count on and the young players look up to, so he has taken this year’s struggle to heart. Catawba hasn’t made the playoffs since he was a redshirt freshman.
“We just need to execute better,” Morman said. “We’ll have the right play call but we’ll run the wrong route or miss a block. It just comes down to execution, and hopefully, this week will be that week that we execute.”
Vennable is a rare Virginia recruit for the Indians.
His powerhouse Gretna team attended Catawba 7-on-7 camps, and that connection led to the Indians signing him and also landing Gretna offensive lineman Ethan Winn, who is a starting offensive tackle.
“Bryant is a Catawba success story,” Hester said. “A good person who has made himself a very good student.”
Vennable has a broken little finger on his left hand, but he played with the injury last week. The Indians already have lost veteran DBs Scottie Floyd and L.J. McCray, so Vennable will play on.
“I broke the finger in the Wingate game,” Vennable explained. “I broke up a pass, but then (safety) Kewone Harris came in and cleaned out the receiver — and my hand. I got a cast and got it wrapped up. We took a big hit losing Scottie and L.J. and we don’t need to lose any more guys.”
Vennable, who prides himself on being a tough corner, and Morman, who enjoys blocking on the edge, have battled often in practice over the years. They’ll be brothers on the field just two more times — Saturday at Brevard and the season finale at home against Lenoir-Rhyne on Nov. 12.
“Just two more left,” Morman said, shaking his head. “We want it to be two wins.”
“I definitely don’t want to leave here with a sour taste,” he said. “We want to turn it around and get the guys rolling into next season.”
NOTES: A broken arm has ended senior center Daylon McAlexander’s career. … For the third time, true freshman lineman C.J. Barksdale (six solo stops) was named the team’s defensive player of the week. …Believe it or not, QB Jacob Charest has more rushing TDs (eight) than passing TDs (seven). … Catawba is the lowest-scoring team in the SAC and also ranks last in pass defense. That’s a deadly combination.