TIGERVILLE, S.C. — With the scored tied with six seconds left, Catawba coach Curtis Walker kept his brain busy as Chad Hollandsworth prepared to kick a 23-yard field goal.
Walker was dealing with two possible scenarios — preparing his speech for the overtime if something went wrong on the kick and preparing the kickoff team to execute in case Hollandsworth’s kick was true.
A third thing actually happened. Time expired as Hollandsworth’s kick lifted Catawba to a 20-17 non-conference victory at North Greenville.
“I guess Chad kicked it high enough that it needed all six seconds to go those 23 yards,” Walker said with a laugh. “But I do know this — it was a joyous way to win a hard-fought game.”
While Catawba’s place in the middle of the SAC standings (3-3) didn’t change, the Indians (6-4 overall) had their second-best win of the season on Saturday. They beat a stout team on the road after trailing by two TDs at halftime. Not only that, they won the game after their starting quarterback was hurt.
Catawba’s defense was lights-out the last 30 minutes. The Indians forced four fumbles on the day and pitched a second-half shutout.
Joining Hollandsworth in the parade of heroes were freshman linebacker Montravius Evans, receiver Nate Charest (eight catches, 101 yards), running back Cary Littlejohn (90 rushing yards) and backup QB Mike Sheehan.
Catawba fell in a hole because it had its hands full with Fred Martino, Division II’s leading receiver. Martino caught a 16-yard TD pass early from Nelson Hughes and finished with 14 catches for 130 yards.
Hollandsworth’s 36-yard field goal provided the only Catawba offense in the first half, and the Indians went to the break down 17-3.
Catawba’s defense started creating turnovers in the second half, including a forced fumble by Evans on a hit on Hughes and a forced fumble by DB Javon Powell against Martino.
The turning point arrived when Evans picked off a tipped pass and raced 38 yards to score late in the third quarter. Hollandsworth’s PAT made it 17-10 Crusaders.
“The wideout they had was every bit as good as he was supposed to be and we have all kinds of respect for him,” Walker said. “But our defense started playing very well in the second half, and then we got that great spark we needed from Evans.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Catawba drew even with the Crusaders with an 80-yard drive that included a 43-yard completion from Danny O’Brien (17-for-25, 130 yards) to Charest when Catawba faced a third-and-17.
“Nate is that guy who always quietly gets his numbers — you count on him for close to 10 catches and 100 yards every week,” Walker said. “And he usually shows up at the right time.”
O’Brien injured a hand on that tying drive, but Sheehan came in and finished it off. Littlejohn got the TD from the 1, and Hollandsworth’s PAT tied the game at 17-all.
“The staff has a whole lot of faith in Sheehan,” Walker said. “He’s such a good athlete that he plays on special teams for us, so he already was mentally into the game and he was warmed up.”
North Greenville (5-5) threatened to go back on top with a drive that wasn’t slowed until the Crusaders had first-and-goal at the Catawba 4. That’s where Catawba’s defense stood up again, and with the ball at the 1 on fourth down, the Crusaders declined the easy field goal and tried for six. Catawba’s defense, led by Stephen “Yogi” Davis, made the stop.
With 1:14 left, Catawba had the ball at its 18, and overtime loomed, but Sheehan led a game-winning drive. He hit key passes to Carlos Tarrats, Charest, and then found tight end Tyler Hamilton on a 22-yard play to the North Greenville 6.
That set up Hollandsworth’s decisive kick and Catawba’s sixth victory.
After 3-8 and 4-7 seasons, the Indians clinched a winning season in Walker’s head-coaching debut.
“A winning season helps us build for the future, and we’ll keep right on working,” he said. “Six wins is a positive step, and we have ambitions for seven.”
Catawba hosts regional power Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
NOTES: Catawba is 4-1 on the road. … Linebacker Jason Taylor and safety L.J. McCray forced fumbles. Taylor had 10 tackles, while McCray had nine. Evans and DB Mark McDaniel recovered fumbles.
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