Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Catawba’s star safety L.J. McCray and Livingstone backup quarterback Isaiah Laster are cousins, a reminder that the football programs at Catawba and Livingstone are connected in many ways.
“I’ve been here a while and guys like LJ. have been at Catawba for years, so we know each other well,” Livingstone receiver Anthony Holland explained. “When we play Catawba it’s friendly, but at the same time, it’s extra-competitive. It’s like you’re playing against your brothers. Win this game, and it’s bragging rights for 365 days.”
Coaches, dignitaries, administrators, media and players gathered at the Livingstone Event Center on Tuesday morning to kick off the hoopla that always surrounds the Mayor’s Cup contest pitting Livingstone against Catawba. This year’s game will be played at Livingstone’s Alumni Memorial at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Livingstone had the press-conference size advantage thanks to 300-pound offensive lineman Ekanem Ekanem, who was joined by receivers Holland and Avery Collins. Catawba countered with McCray, receiver Nate Charest and kicker Chad Hollandsworth.
Livingstone’s State Alexander, executive assistant to the president and director of public relations, declared that “the city of Salisbury enjoys this great meeting of two football teams,” and he’s right about that. Both programs like this game, especially the road team, which has to travel only two miles. That’s a bit easier than hitting the highway to play Carson-Newman or Virginia Union.
“It’s a good game,” Charest said. “And it’s always a fun game. Livingstone always challenges you man-to-man.”
Catawba fans have enjoyed the series somewhat more than Livingstone fans. Catawba is 13-0 against Livingstone and has won all 12 meetings since the Mayor’s Cup Game became an annual event in 2000. Well, almost an annual event. The schools took a break in 2011 before renewing their friendly hostilities last fall.
Most of the Catawba-Livingstone games have been of the 49-7, leave-at-halftime variety, but it was a more competitive 49-21 a year ago, and all the Indians were wowed by Livingstone’s young QB Drew Powell, who won CIAA Offensive Freshman of the Year honors in 2012.
“He’s an athlete, and he can make plays with his feet or his arm,” McCray said. “They kind of surprised us last year with their fast-paced offense and gave us some trouble.”
Just about everyone believes that Livingstone, 2-8 a year ago, has improved its running game and upgraded its defense and is more dangerous than it’s been in a while. The Blue Bears got off to a dismal, fumble-plagued start last Saturday against Johnson C. Smith, but they made it a ballgame before losing 34-17.
New coach Daryl Williams, architect of LC’s fast-paced offfense, has the look and sound of a winner and may be the long-term coach the Blue Bears have been seeking.
“We never quit against Johnson C. Smith and our spirits were high at practice Monday,” Williams said. “Everything is very encouraging so far. I’m looking for a great football game this Saturday.”
Catawba wasn’t exactly scintillating in its opener, but the bottom line was good. The Indians survived 10-9 against West Liberty in coach Curtis Walker’s debut.
“We have of lot of work to do, but the important thing is that we fought crazy-hard against West Liberty,” Walker said. “Our guys would not give in.”
Williams was a quarterback and a good one. He was all-conference at Tennessee State in the early 1990s. Walker was a Catawba linebacker and a good one. He tackled 25 Wofford Terriers in a 1991 game — which is still the school record.
Just as they played different positions, the crosstown coaches have different styles. Williams showed up for the press conference dressed sharp enough to preach a sermon. Walker showed up in his standard Catawba-blue coaching shirt. But they also have plenty in common, and it’s probably not a stretch to say that Walker hopes Livingstone wins them all after Saturday, while Williams wishes the same for Catawba.
“We’ve got a great relationship,” said Walker, as Williams nodded in agreement. “We’re friends. We talk. We’ve played in golf tournaments.”
Mayor Paul Woodson was on hand for Tuesday’s festivities. It seems like yesterday he was helping administer the first Mayor’s Cup coin toss in 2000, and he recalls how heavy the massive Mayor’s Cup trophy is when you have to hold it up for a while.
Neither team will mind hoisting the trophy Saturday, whether Livingstone pulls the upset or Catawba stays perfect in the series.
“I feel very fortunate that our city of 33,000 people has two great colleges,” Woodson said. “May the best team win.”