College Football: Catawba wins at Carson-Newman
By Mike London
Catawba didn’t play a perfect football game on Saturday, but it came close enough to win, 14-7, at Carson-Newman in the South Atlantic Conference opener for both teams.
“We had no lapses,” pleased Catawba head coach Curtis Walker said by telephone on the bus coming home.
All wins against Carson-Newman are special for the Indians. This was only the 11th in 49 meetings. Road wins at Carson-Newman are especially meaningful, and Catawba now has won in Jefferson City, Tenn., twice in a row. Catawba won, 25-22, at Carson-Newman in Walker’s first season in 2013.
Catawba’s offense was efficient. There were no turnovers, 177 rushing yards and a crisp 19-for-24 passing day by quarterback Mike Sheehan — for 163 yards.
“We were clicking offensively and we made some some drives,” Walker said. “Our offense did exactly what it needed to do to help out our defense. We won time of possession and we kept the ball away from Carson-Newman. Sheehan operated our offense and ran the ball well. They used two high safeties to take some things away from us, but that makes it hard to stop the quarterback from running.”
Special teams had one mishap that cost field position, but Carson-Newman wasn’t able to break big kick returns and Catawba blocked two field-goal tries.
The Catawba defense stood tallest of all, holding Carson-Newman to 99 yards after halftime. Catawba’s defense had 10 stops on third down and two more on fourth down.
“Great work by (defensive coordinator) Keith Henry and all his staff,” Walker said. “Our defense came through with a tremendous game.”
Jonathan Jean had 12 tackles, extraordinary production from an interior lineman. Jean and linebacker Kyle Kitchens, who blocked one of the field goals, had sacks.
Catawba scored in the first quarter when Sheehan’s 7-yard run finished a six-minute, 74-yard drive. Sheehan’s 15-yard dash on third-and-13 at the Carson-Newman 21 was the key play.
Carson-Newman tied it early in the second quarter at 7-all. That touchdown was set up by a 75-yard pass play from De’Andre Thomas to TraShaun Ward.
“(Defensive back) Mark McDaniel was in good position on that big pass play, but he mistimed his leap, Walker said. “If not for that one pass, we might have shut them out.”
After the teams battled through a scoreless third quarter, Catawba moved 83 yards for the go-ahead score. The key play was Brandon Brown’s 57-yard reception when the Indians faced second-and-8 at the Catawba 30. Brown faked an out pattern, streaked to the post, and Sheehan got the ball to him.
Brown’s catch put the ball at the Carson-Newman 13, and Gary Williams made a tough catch on an 8-yard TD pass from Sheehan three plays later. Chad Hollandsworth’s PAT made it 14-7.
With under seven minutes left, Carson-Newman went for it on fourth-and-1 at the C-N 47, and Catawba stuffed a dive play for no gain. Linebacker Jamal Lackey was the primary tackler.
“Jonathan Jean and C.J. Barksdale had a great push on that play and helped Lackey make the tackle,” Walker said.
Catawba was able to make a first down and took four minutes off the clock before Hollandsworth was wide right on a 49-yard field goal try that had the necessary distance.
That gave Carson-Newman one more chance, but a penalty and a sack by Kitchens put the Eagles in a desperate fourth-and-29 situation. The Eagles completed a pass, but Lackey and McDaniel combined to make the tackle well short of a first down with 2:08 remaining.
With 36 seconds left and Catawba facing fourth-and-1, Hollandsworth kicked a 32-yard field goal, but when Carson-Newman (2-1) was offsides on the play, Catawba accepted the penalty, took the points off the board, and took a knee to end the game.
It only counts as one victory in the standings, but it’s a massive win that gets the Indians (2-1) off to a 1-0 start in the league. Catawba hasn’t had a winning conference record since 2010.
“Anytime you beat a good team to start conference play, it’s exciting,” Walker said. “This gives us a lot of momentum.”
Catawba hosts Wingate, another SAC rival, next Saturday at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs have won four straight games in the series, since Catawba won, 35-28, at Wingate in 2010.
Note: Henry knows a little something about winning at Carson-Newman. He was a hard-hitting safety and defensive leader on a Catawba defense that shut out the Eagles in 1987. In that game, Henry also blocked a punt out of the end zone for the only points in a 2-0 Catawba victory.