Catawba hosts Wingate tonight in SAC showdown
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The euphoria of Catawba’s road victory at Carson-Newman still lingers, but can the Indians build on it?
While Catawba players and coaches put it all together last Saturday, the harsh reality is the Indians are an 18-18 football program in their last 36 games, and the school responsible for a whole lot of growls, groans and grimaces visits Shuford Stadium tonight at 6 p.m.
Curtis Walker is 0-2 coaching the Indians against Wingate’s Bulldogs.
“Six turnovers last year at Wingate, and two years ago we’re up 19 points in the second half and we blow the lead and lose the ballgame,” Walker said. “We’ve just got to put all the pieces together and play a full football game.”
While Wingate (3-0, 1-0 SAC) hasn’t enjoyed the regional/national notoriety that Lenoir-Rhyne has achieved, the Bulldogs have tormented rival Catawba almost as frequently in recent years.
Catawba (2-1, 1-0 SA) has dropped six straight to L-R’s Bears, but the Indians also have lost four in a row to Wingate, with all four setbacks falling into the frustrating category.
“When we’ve played Wingate, Lady Luck has been on their side,” Catawba tackle T.J. Olsen said.
Olsen is normally a jovial guy, but mention Wingate and he turns grim. There’s been a lot of pain.
Catawba QB Mike Sheehan threw 15 interceptions in 2014. Five came on a single afternoon at Wingate in a 30-19 loss. The year before that the Bulldogs prevailed 23-22 on Kirkland Field at Shuford Stadium. In 2012, Wingate outlasted Catawba in overtime. In 2011, the Bulldogs outscored the Indians in a 51-41 adventure.
“The thing that stands out about Wingate is how physical they are,” said Catawba receiver Gary Williams, who had a huge touchdown catch at Carson-Newman. “When you play against them, everyone has to be physical. As a receiver, I’ve got to block on every play.”
While Catawba was upending Carson-Newman with mistake-free offense, solid special teams and magnificent defense, Wingate was thoroughly annihilating SAC opponent Brevard, 37-0.
Wingate’s defense already owns two shutouts, although none of the Bulldogs’ early opponents possessed the offensive balance Catawba will bring to the field.
Catawba has won two straight since a loss to second-ranked West Georgia and presents problems for defensive coordinators. Cary Littlejohn is moving the chains running behind a veteran offensive line, and Sheehan can make plays with his legs as well as his right arm.
Wingate’s offense will be operating against the stingiest defense it’s seen, but the Bulldogs also are balanced. Coach Joe Reich, who will be coaching the Bulldogs against Catawba for the 15th time, has gotten 338 rushing yards and 6.5 yards per carry from Lawrence Pittman and 529 passing yards from QB Kyle Johnson. Johnson has completed 65.8 percent of his throws. His favorite target is Jordan Berry, who already has 20 catches, 225 receiving yards and four TDs.
Wingate also is dangerous on special teams. Jody Fuller returned Brevard’s only kickoff for a touchdown last Saturday.
“We know we’ve got to win this game on all three fronts,” Catawba nose guard Jonathan Jean said.
It’s Family Weekend for Catawba, but it’s also “Statement Weekend.” Tonight’s winner becomes a serious contender for the SAC championship, and the Indians haven’t won any hardware since 2007.
Even though it hasn’t beaten Wingate since 2010, Catawba still leads the series, 19-12.