Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2013

SALISBURY — It sounds strange, but it’s a staple of football that young men competing for the same position usually wind up being fast friends instead of sworn enemies.
Their position rival is who players spend their time with at practice, pushing each other to get better, battling each other for reps and playing time, and bonds are formed that last far beyond the practice field.
Catawba’s tight-end tandem for three seasons has been senior Vincent Beam and junior Tyler Hamilton, and there are power sets when Catawba will play both bookends at the same time.
Hamilton says Saturday’s finale against Lenoir-Rhyne at Shuford Stadium at 1:30 p.m. will be all about Catawba’s seniors. For him, personally, his major motivation will be to send his friend and colleague Beam out a winner.
“This senior class means a lot to us,” Hamilton said. “Vincent, L.J. McCray, those guys taught me a lot here. This being their last game, it makes it a very important game for every one of us.”
Beam, from Wilkes Central High in the foothills, catches the occasional pass (nine this season), but most of the time he’s using his 6-foot-3, 230-pound body to clear lanes for Catawba’s running backs.
Hamilton is a city guy from Charlotte’s Vance High.
He has improved steadily as a blocker, but his forte is catching passes. He’s also 6-3, 230, but athletically, he’s a like a large wideout. He’s fast and he’s a field-stretcher. His 26 catches and 334 receiving yards rank third on the team.
“Hamilton a big target and he’s just an exciting kid to coach,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said. “He’s not just talented — he’s become very knowledgeable about the game. He’s a solid kid who understands his education is as important as playing football.”
It was 17-17 in the fourth quarter at North Greenville Saturday, and after a goal-line stand, Catawba’s offense was backed up and in trouble, facing third-and-8 from its 3-yard line. Not only that, backup QB MIke Sheehan was in the game for injured starter Danny O’Brien.
“I hadn’t had a catch all day, but I was telling myself to stay patient and just keep working hard to find that window and get open,” Hamilton said.
Sheehan found Hamilton on that third-and-8 for a tackler-dragging 18-yard gain that got Catawba out of a desperate hole. Catawba eventually had to punt to end that drive, but field position changed.
“That catch Hamilton made there was just as important as the one he made for us at the end of the game,” Walker said.
Hamilton’s catch at the end was a 22-yard completion from Sheehan that went to the North Greenville 6 with six seconds left to play.
“Sometimes when you get that first catch, it gets you going,” Hamilton said with a smile.
On the next play, SAC Special Teams Player of the Week Chad Hollandsworth lifted Catawba to a 20-17 victory with a field goal, and the celebration of a winning season began.
The exciting comeback gave Catawba (6-4) momentum and optimism going into Saturday’s finale with SAC champion Lenoir-Rhyne (9-1), one of the top teams, not just in the region, but in all of Division II.
The last few seasons, Catawba was reeling and battered when it faced L-R. This time, the Indians are surging.
It might be interesting.
“I was just watching L-R’s safeties on film and seeing that same tough defense as last year,” Hamilton said. “Lenoir-Rhyne has an older defense, a very strong defense, but I know we look forward to the challenge. We like playing big games, and we’ve played our best football in the big ones.”