Catawba on road; Blue Bears at home
Catawba safety L.J. McCray got a hand on Carson-Newman’s last-second 33-yard field goal that would have sent Saturday’s game to overtime, but no one even knew it at the time.
That’s how low-key McCray’s reaction was. A play needed to be made, and he made it and walked off the field. End of story.
“When I asked L.J. if he got a hand on that ball, he said he did,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said. “I’m a big believer in acting like you’ve been there before, but I told L.J. that when you make a play like that to save the game, it’s OK to celebrate. Go ahead and show out a little bit.”
McCray will have to chance to make more plays — and hopefully show out a little bit — this afternoon.
Catawba is at Tusculum for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff, and McCray will be front and center as Catawba (3-1, 1-1) tries to slow down one of Division II’s top passing offenses.
Tusculum QB Bo Cordell is sixth nationally with 353 passing yards per game, and Tusculum’s offense has run the ball well enough to push the Pioneers’ total offense numbers to nearly 500 yards per game.
Catawba’s pass-rush probably will be the most significant component of the game. Cordell is great, but he can’t throw from his back. He was sacked seven times by Lenor-Rhyne last week when the Bears beat Tusculum 24-10.
Tusculum (2-2, 0-1) has been great at converting on third downs — moving the chains 48 percent of the time to lead the SAC in that department — so third-down stops and getting the defense off the field is even more critical today for Catawba than usual.
Catawba’s offense is led by Danny O’Brien, who throws for 242 yards per game.
This has been a great series. Catawba leads 12-5, but almost every game has been exciting. Eleven of the last 13 have been decided by 10 points or less.
Catawba showed last week it could handle adversity, bouncing back from a pretty awful home loss to Newberry. Now the Indians have to show they can handle prosperity equally well. Another road win might put the Indians back in the national rankings.
Va. Union at Livingstone
Livingstone also has to show it can handle prosperity. Riding the wave of a two-game winning streak and tasting serious success for the first time in a decade, Livingstone finds itself in the rare role of favorite today when it hosts Virginia Union at 1 p.m. Virginia Union hasn’t won yet.
“The fact that Virginia Union hasn’t won will make this the toughest game of the season for us so far,” cautioned Livingstone coach Daryl Williams. “They’re going to be hungry, but I’ve still got a good feeling about this game.”
Livingstone edged Virginia Union last season in Richmond, with QB Drew Powell and WR Anthony Holland having big days, but Powell probably won’t have to throw it 30 or 40 times today. Livingstone is hanging its hat on its new-found running game and picking its spots to pass. The Blue Bears (2-2, 1-1) steamrolled Lincoln with a physical ground attack last week that included a huge game by CIAA Back of the Week Justin Forte.
Livingstone has proved it can win hundreds of miles from Salisbury, so the storyline today will be can the Blue Bears translate those road breakthroughs into home success. They weren’t very good in their last outing at Alumni Stadium — a 42-16 loss to Catawba. Catawba scored the first 42 in that one.
“We left the field that night embarrassed about how we had played in front of our administration and our fans,” Williams said. “That’s not a feeling we ever want to have again.”
Forte said the Blue Bears are focused and determined to show their fans that they are for real.
“I think this game is very important to everyone on this team,” he said. “We want to take care of us and play well. If we do that, everything else follows.”
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