Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 7, 2013

SALISBURY — Catawba quarterback B.J. Sherrill revealed Saturday that his biggest fear isn’t interceptions or sacks or even spiders and snakes — it’s Timmy Pangburn.
Sherrill and offensive lineman Pangburn were two of the standouts West Rowan built a prep dynasty around, but they were on opposite sidelines for Catawba’s Blue-Grey Spring Game.
“The seniors picked the teams Thursday night, and as soon as the rosters got out, there was plenty of texting and trash talk,” Sherrill said. “Pangburn talked so much trash that I had nightmares about losing to him. But now I’m headed to the locker room to find him, and he’s going to get an earful from me.”
Sherrill got the last word because he directed most of the Grey squad’s 10-6 victory.
With an assist from perfect weather, a big, curious crowd occupied Shuford Stadium, and fans saw a physical, evenly matched game that wasn’t settled until Grey DB Mark McDaniel batted down a jump-ball on the final snap.
“There was still doubt about who would win with one second to go, both teams competed to the fullest, and that’s exactly what you want,” new head coach Curtis Walker said. “A crowd came today to see what’s new. We wanted to show them they should come back. There was competitiveness and excitement — excitement that we can build on.”
Excitement and Catawba football haven’t been used in the same sentence much lately.
Everyone admired, respected and liked previous head coach Chip Hester, but change occurred because of a sinking bottom line — a 17-25 record the last four seasons and 19 losses in 28 SAC games.
Lots of new staff, led by Walker, means lots of change. Walker, a Hall of Fame player at Catawba, is a commanding figure and leads with the forceful presence of a linebacker. Whether his tenacity can change the bottom line remains to be seen, but his veteran players have bought in to his message.
“Everything goes high-energy now,” said DB L.J. McCray, an All-America candidate and a team leader. “We’re playing tough, with no jogging, no walking around, and no giving up. We know what we stand for. We just have to take this energy we have right now and carry it into the fall.”
McCray was one of the Indians who was ecstatic that the program was able to stage a “legitimate” spring game Saturday. In recent years, injuries and depth issues have led to Offense vs. Defense spring yawners, with an elaborate scoring system.
On Saturday, when Blue QB Mike Sheehan fired a touchdown pass to tall Diante Hodges, everyone in Shuford Stadium knew it counted as six points. That was nice.
Sheehan, by the way, was one of the breakout guys. He showed poise, scrambling ability and a good arm.
“He’s smart and just swallowed the playbook,” Sherrill said. “He’s competing hard, but competition is great. Competition keeps you pushing.”
Terrell Thompson had an interception for the Blue squad late in the first half, and the Blues took a 6-0 lead into the 20-minute halftime break.
The momentum-changing play was a third-quarter interception by a leaping McDaniel.
The pick by the former South Rowan flash led to the Grey’s first scoring drive.
A surprise “fumblerooski” pushed the ball inside the 10, and Sherrill, much healthier than when he was hobbling last fall with foot injuries, crashed in for the tying TD. Chad Hollandsworth’s PAT gave the Greys a 7-6 lead.
McCray made an electrifying interception of Sheehan and a dazzling return a few moments later.
“It was a rollout, and when I saw the tight end leaving, I knew someone would be coming across,” McCray said. “The QB didn’t see me, and I just jumped it and took the ball.”
McCray’s theft set up a short field goal by Hollandsworth, and the Greys led 10-6.
Led by rugged linemen C.J. Barksdale and Jonathan Jean, the Blues got stops the rest of the way. The Blue team moved the ball with Sheehan passing to Bruce Smith and Nate Charest, but the Grey defense was firm when it had to be. Linemen Damein Lee and Gabriel Evans produced a series of sacks, and Lee had a forced fumble on a key third-down play.
“It’s all good and this was a lot of fun,” Lee said. “We were all tired, but this coaching staff has so much energy that it’s hard not to feed off it. It was hard not to be excited.”
Seniors drafted the teams, and they couldn’t have been much more balanced. The result was a wire-to-wire battle, despite the low score.
“Spring games aren’t going to be 55-54,” Walker said. “The clock is running, and everything caters to the defense.”
The defenses benefited from several no-calls, including one obvious late pass interference the Grey team wasn’t flagged for. That play influenced who got to talk trash and who had to listen to it.
Walker used that play and others as a teaching tool. There’s no better place than a spring game for players to learn to play through adversity and to focus only on the things that they can control.
One of Saturday’s interesting events was the return to action of running back Thomas Lowe. He got quite a few carries for the Blue team.
Lowe hasn’t been in the spotlight since his senior season at South Rowan in 2009, but he could be a factor. Lowe adds to the ball-carrying competition, while ex-West star Trey Mashore showed he could be in the pass-catching mix.
Walker emphasized Catawba will add much more to its offensive and defensive arsenals before this fall. But tough competition wasn’t in short supply in his public debut, and that was the main thing.
“Competition is the biggest motivator of all,” Walker said. “Competition is how you build depth, and depth is what gives you a chance.”