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Catawba gets road victory at Davidson

By David Shaw

sports@salisburypost.com

DAVIDSON —  It was a night of redemption for Catawba’s football team.

A week after managing only 145 yards total offense in their season opener, the Indians spent much of Saturday throttling with precision in a 35-21 victory over Davidson. At least it looked that way.

“A win’s a win, but we really didn’t get what we came here for,” quarterback Mike Sheehan said after Catawba amassed 490 yards and gained its first win. “Last year, we came out here and dominated these guys. That’s what we were trying for tonight.”

The Indians were dominant enough. Sheehan completed half of his 24 attempts, passed for 168 yards and a game-clinching touchdown. But he also threw two momentum-killing interceptions. Teammate Cary Littlejohn fared much better. A punishing 220-pound running back, he tore through traffic like a point guard breaking a zone press, finishing with a career-best 192 yards rushing. Littlejohn also had a tone-setting touchdown midway through the first quarter.

“In my opinion, we didn’t play as well as we could have,” Littlejohn said. “In two games, we still haven’t shown what Catawba football is, but we’re going to get better.”

Even winning head coach Curtis Walker was somewhat dissatisfied with the program’s 496th all-time triumph. “We’re pleased with the outcome,” he said, “but I thought we left a lot of opportunities out there. Not to take anything away from Davidson — they’re an improved team — but I was looking for greater leaps this week. This game was a little below my expectations for this team.”

Davidson (0-2), a non-scholarship FCS program, did enough to curb Catawba’s enthusiasm. The Wildcats played with a nothing-to-lose mindset and racked up 362 yards, including 197 on the ground. Quarterback John Cook passed for another 165 and threw a fourth-quarter TD pass that closed the scoring. Running back Jeffrey Keil delivered 121 yards rushing and averaged better than six yards per carry.

None of it was enough to overcome the performance of Catawba’s cut-and-paste offensive line. Playing without two injured starters, it provided secret-service protection for Sheehan and opened holes wide enough to drive the team bus through. Littlejohn was the first to capitalize when he powered his way up the middle and into the Davidson secondary, then raced untouched into the end zone on a 64-yard score with 6:50 remaining in the opening period. “We caught them in the right place,” said Sheehan. “Our center (Tim Buck) made a call for the OL, told them what to do. It was history from there.”

Littlejohn remained modest when asked about the play. “You can say it was me, but it wasn’t,” he explained afterward. “That was all offensive line. Perfect blocking. When a running back just has to run through a hole and he’s home, that’s a credit to your O-Line.”

Catawba was minus the services of first-string guards Tim Pangburn and Quinzavious Sands, but received standout relief work from junior Drew Morgan and sophomore C.J. Cain. “It was our preparation,” noted senior left tackle Lewis McCormick. “We got the front down pat. We picked things up. They liked to send blitzes and we all adjusted.”

Catawba took the lead for good early in the second quarter. Facing fourth-and-short, Sheehan handed off to sophomore Eamon Smart (8 carries/68 yards), who busted a 32-yard touchdown run through the middle and down the left side. A two-point conversion made it 15-7.

There was less than a minute to play in the third quarter when Catawba salted the game away. Sheehan’s 49-yard touchdown pass to wide out Bruce Smith gave the Indians a 35-14 edge.

“They went with man coverage and I had missed Bruce on a similar play earlier in the game,” said Sheehan. “If I see him open on the outside, I have to take a shot. He went one-on-one and beat the guy, then did a good job to stay on his feet and come down in bounds.”

When it ended, the Indians took their prize, warts and all, and marched off victorious. They spent the evening working the body, but never did land a haymaker.

“Like I said, I’m pleased with the victory,” Walker said. “But I expected more.”

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