Catawba has a chance to get on a roll
SALISBURY — Jamal Lackey, a strong, silent linebacker from Davie County, still remembers the most amazing day of his football life.
It was 2010, and Lackey was a sophomore on a memorable team. After a 5-6 regular season, Davie County upset four straight playoff opponents and reached the 4A state championship game.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Lackey said. “We’re all sitting there in the locker room before that championship game with Hillside and coach (Devore) Holman and coach (Mike) Herndon just started slapping each other around. We didn’t know what was going on at first. We thought they were mad about something, but then we realized they were so hyped about being there they needed to hit somebody.”
Passion for football runs deep in Davie County. Mocksville’s Lackey has brought some of that orange pride and passion to the Catawba Indians. The sophomore was tremendous in last Saturday’s 35-33 loss to Carson-Newman. His breakout performance included 13 jarring tackles against a veer offense.
“He’s an unbelievable player and he was on the recruiting radar for me even before I came here,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said. “Jamal kind of got our season jump-started with his interception for a touchdown at Davidson, and he’s one of our very best special teams players.”
Lackey’s role will be different Saturday when Catawba welcomes SAC foe Tusculum to Shuford Stadium at 1:30 p.m. Lackey won’t make 13 tackles, but he’ll be important in pass-rush and pass-coverage and in containing Tusculum’s mobile QB Malcolm Pendergrass.
Tusculum (1-3, 0-1 SAC) has run the ball 163 times — a lot more than usual — with 61 of those carries being by Pendergress, either on designed runs or improvisational scrambles.
“Tusculum had a great quarterback last year (Bo Cordell), who would try to beat you with his arm and head from the pocket,” Walker said. “They’ve replaced him with a better athlete. If this guy’s first read isn’t open, he just takes off. That’s difficult to defend. He can be trouble.”
Catawba (2-2, 1-1) is getting excellent play from a lot of positions and may be as strong as it’s been in a half-dozen years. The Indians have a realistic chance to get on roll. Starting Saturday, they’ll play six straight games which will be either tossups or games in which Catawba is favored.
The immediate concern is injuries on a defensive unit that is not deep. Young guys had to step in and play earlier than expected last week, including Michael Peppers, a true freshman linebacker from Clemson, S.C.
Peppers played in a state championship game less than a year ago and is already making an impact.
“They told me they were going to throw me in the water and see how I responded,” Peppers said. “It’s football and people go down. You just try to step in and keep things like nothing’s changed. You don’t want to be the weak link.”
There was nothing weak about his performance against Carson-Newman. Peppers was in on nine tackles.
Placekicker Chad Hollandsworth also has been extra busy. He’s been called on for seven field-goal attempts already and has made four. He’s missed a couple the Indians needed him to make, but he’s also nailed two from beyond 40 yards.
“Sometimes you like to be left alone after you miss one,” Hollandsworth said. “But you also appreciate it when teammates tell you that it’s all right, that they know you’ll make the next one.”
The Indians are optimistic Hollandsworth will be attempting PATs, rather than field goals, on Saturday. Tusculum is coming off a 47-9 thrashing against Lenoir-Rhyne.
Catawba lost 43-25 at Tusculum a year ago, but Catawba still leads the all-time series 12-6.
This will be the last chance for fans to see Catawba at home before Oct. 25.
Follow Mike London on Twitter at @mikelondonpost3.