SAC Football: Lenoir-Rhyne 38, Catawba 6
By Mike London
SALISBURY — With six minutes left, Catawba senior Lakeem Perry helped teammate Richard Miller wrestle Lenoir-Rhyne’s Byron Darby to the ground after a 3-yard gain.
It was Perry’s 14th tackle on Saturday afternoon, his 108th of the season and the 287th — and last — of the linebacker’s great college career.
Perry went down fighting in his swan song, as did classmates Kewone Harris (eight tackles) and Brandon Weedon (two sacks), but their efforts were like autumn leaves swept away by a Lenoir-Rhyne windstorm.
L-R quarterback Major Herron rushed for 182 yards in a 38-6 romp by the Bears and was masterful at directing a wicked option attack.
“That’s a good team with pretty talented players, and you’ve got to give them credit,” Perry said. “They’ve got an offense that’s very hard to stop.”
The Bears rushed for 348 yards and earned a share of the SAC title, their first since 1994, by mauling Catawba in all three phases. The Indians (3-8, 2-5) were limited to seven first downs and 130 yards of offense.
“We were a little ticked at the way we played defensively a week ago,” L-R coach Mike Houston said. “We wanted to prove today who we are.”
The Bears proved to the 2,548 people assembled at Shuford Stadium that they were best team in the SAC this year and also proved it to Catawba coach Chip Hester.
“We wanted to send our seniors out on a much better note,” he said quietly. “But Lenoir-Rhyne was very impressive today. Their quarterback ran the ball like a champ, and we were just not in their league.”
The Bears (7-3, 6-1) obliterated SAC co-champ Mars Hill head-to-head, but a loss to Tusculum (2-5 SAC) cost them an outright crown and a hard-to-explain setback to Davidson (3-7) back in early September may keep them out of the D-II playoffs. Only six teams qualify for Southeast Regional play. The Bears entered the day ranked eighth regionally and still in need of help beyond their control.
Catawba’s defense got a fourth-and-1 stop from Weedon and contained the visitors on their first two possessions, but Herron reeled off a weaving, 53-yard dash to set up a go-ahead TD with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
Salisbury High product Ike Whitaker, L-R’s sledgehammer fullback, lugged the ball on five straight snaps at one point in the first half and finished his day with 87 physical yards on 18 carries.
“He’s like a piece of iron,” Houston said. “Guys hit him and they just bounce off.”
Whitaker scored on a 4-yard run to make it 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Catawba got a second-quarter sack of Herron by Stephen Davis to grab a little momentum and then was handed the ball on the L-R 21 when the Bears fumbled the snap on a punt attempt and Jumal Rolle made the recovery.
Five plays later, Catawba got its only touchdown when Jacob Charest barreled into the end zone from the 6-inch line on a quarterback sneak.
But things deteriorated for the Indians quickly after that. Michael Green’s 35-yard punt return led to the Bears getting a huge TD late in the half, and it was 21-6 at the break.
Then it was suddenly 28-6 after Jamont Jones accepted the second-half kickoff and raced 93 yards to the house.
“We’d just talked about how important the first five minutes of the second half were going to be,” Hester said. “After that, it was all uphill.”
Catawba P.A. man Karl Hales always advises fans to drive home safely after games, but in all honesty, he could have offered that announcement after Jones’ kickoff return. The game was over. So was the season.
“That kickoff return was the nail in the coffin a little bit,” Weedon said.
L-R’s offense never slowed down and the Bears tackled on 10 more points early in the fourth quarter.
“Their blocking scheme is very good,” Harris said. “I got cracked and cut all day long, and we just couldn’t find any way to stop them.”
Any chance Catawba had of making things respectable evaporated when Charest was blind-sided on a sack by Richard Walker late in the third quarter and injured a shoulder. Tyler Gilmore, primarily a wideout in his days at A.L. Brown, quarterbacked the rest of the way.
“We just couldn’t quite put it together today — or this season,” Hester said. “We had lots of injuries, but everyone has injuries. The bottom line is we weren’t good enough and we’ve got to get better. We’ve got talent returning, but we’ll re-evaluate everything we’re doing.” we do.”