College Football: Defense dominates in Catawba spring game

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 31, 2012

By Mike London
SALISBURY — The sun finally broke through the clouds at Shuford Stadium on Saturday, but Catawba’s offense never discovered any daylight.
The Offense vs. Defense spring football game, which awarded points for modest achievements such as first downs and third-down stops, produced a one-sided outcome.
It was Defense 52, Offense 18, so if you had Offense and 33 points, you lost your bet.
“We couldn’t get anything going,” Catawba head coach Chip Hester said. “The defense kept the hammer down all day and really dominated.”
Offense managed two trips to the red zone on exciting receptions by big receivers Tyler Hamilton and Joe Watson — but none to the end zone.
Even with second-and-goal at the 1, Offense couldn’t punch it in.
“You sort of expect the defense to be a little better at this point,” said No. 2 quarterback B.J. Sherrill. “But we’ve got to perform better than that. We weren’t even competitive.”
Catawba’s offense was the SAC’s worst in league games during a dismal 3-8 2011 season, while the defense started strong, but then faded.
Defensively, the Indians may be much stouter in 2012.
Besides all-star candidates such as lineman Damein Lee, linebacker Cory Johnson and cornerback Jumal Rolle, the Indians now have safety L.J. McCray, a potential All-American, back on the field. His season-ending injury early in 2011 was devastating to the Indians.
“L.J. is a natural leader,” said young cornerback Tevin Carr. “L.J. hits hard, runs fast and goes 110-percent. With him and Cory we’ve got two great leaders on defense.”
Defense blew the contest open on a play by another young corner — former South Rowan flash Mark McDaniel.
He stepped in front of a pass and galloped 50 yards to the end zone. With Saturday’s scoring system, it wasn’t just a pick-6, it was a pick-10. Defense got three points for the interception, plus seven more for the TD. A 19-10 lead suddenly swelled to 29-10.
Catawba has tried McDaniel at receiver, but he’s found a home at cornerback.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now,” McDaniel said. “On the interception, the receiver came off the line hard, but I backpedaled and read the ball the way we’re taught. Once I had my hands on it, the rest wasn’t hard.”
Offense had more success in earlier contact practices.
“That first one they hit us in the mouth with the running game,” Johnson said. “But we made adjustments. Our corners (usually Rolle, McDaniel or Carr) were able to play on an island today, and once you lock up at corner, you can load the box and stop the run easy.”
Catawba’s starting quarterback, Jacob Charest, was conspicuous in a bright green jersey that alerted defenders that he was not to be mauled.
“Jacob got enough contact in 11 games last season,” Hester explained. “And we already know what he can do.”
Sherrill, who guided West Rowan to multiple 3A state titles, wore a standard white jersey and plowed like a fullback. He’s 240 pounds and a load to bring down. He was the game’s leading rusher with nine carries for 37 yards.
“Whenever we had third-and-short, I wanted to carry it,” Sherrill said. “I wanted to try to fire up our lineman and get them rolling off the ball.”
Hester optimistically compared his Charest/Sherrill QB combination to the Chris Leak/Tim Tebow pairing Florida once employed.
“Our defensive players will tell you that the hardest guy to tackle on our team is Sherrill,” Hester said.
When they weren’t wrestling with Sherrill, Catawba defenders had things their way. Lee had 21/2 sacks. Richard Miller and Gabriel Evans were in on two apiece.
“I really don’t want to single out one person,” Johnson said. “The whole defense had a good day. I really don’t think our offense had a bad day. It was just that everyone on defense was doing his job.”
Carr had the best day with two picks. He made a leaping interception (Tra Ingram’s pass rush forced a hurried throw) and picked off another pass in the end zone on a fade. He nearly raced 100-plus yards with the second one, but QB Chance Green finally stopped him.
“That was late in the game, and I was tired, so I started to just down the ball,” Carr said. “But I had teammates leading me, so I tried to return it. We played for each other and pushed each other. Defense turned it up today from the time we left the dorm room.”

NOTES: Hester is excited about incoming offensive recruits. Alabama running back Xavier Bond, displays his highlights on YouTube with the 007 theme playing in the background. … Catawba opens Sept. 1 at West Liberty State (W. Va.), which has recruited West Rowan hard the past two years. “They’ve been telling recruits Catawba is afraid to play them,” Hester said. “Once I heard that, it was a mission to get them on the schedule.” It will be a road trip of seven-plus hours. … Hester was receiving steady updates from Atlanta, where his wife and daughters are involved in a volleyball tournament.