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College Football: Catawba right where it wants to be

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Catawba’s football team has turned back the clock.
Catawba is 5-2, its best record after seven games since it was 7-0 in 2007. You may recall 2007 was the last year Catawba won a South Atlantic Conference championship or made the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Catawba is 3-1 in the SAC, the first time it has won three of its first four outings in the league since 2010. That was the last year the Indians finished with a winning conference record.
“We’re having a pretty good season,” third-year head coach Curtis Walker said. “It does feel good to be in contention because we have not had that opportunity in a while.”
Walker’s low-key calm is commendable because a lot of Catawba fans feel like jumping up and down or shouting from a rooftop after three straight victories.
While there’s work yet to be done, Catawba is right where it wants to be heading into today’s homecoming game at 1:30 p.m. against UNC Pembroke. Catawba isn’t ranked, but it doesn’t really care. If you keep winning, polls eventually take care of themselves.
UNCP’s Braves are 4-2, but they allowed 62 points last week. Catawba’s defense has allowed 50 points the last five weeks combined, so you have to like the Indians’ chances today.
Coach Curtis Walker, the staff and the players don’t have the luxury of looking ahead, but media people and fans can look ahead all the want, so let’s do.
Take care of UNC Pembroke and winless Brevard is next. Take care of Brevard and head to Tusculum (3-4). Take care of Tusculum and Catawba is 8-2 and hosting Lenoir-Rhyne’s Bears in a regular-season finale with a share of the conference championship and a playoff berth on the line.
That scenario isn’t wishful thinking. It’s realistic. It’s attainable.
The daunting part of the schedule — that three-week grind of Carson-Newman, Wingate and Newberry — is in the rear-view mirror. Compared to those games, last Saturday’s 29-10 victory against a pretty good Mars Hill squad seemed almost routine.
Catawba quarterback Mike Sheehan can’t look ahead, but he admits that it’s nice to be playing for big goals in late October.
“You’re in a nice spot when you control your destiny,” Sheehan said. “We don’t have to rely on anyone else to beat anyone else.”
Catawba is getting great contributions from people you’ve heard of — linebacker Kyle Kitchens was named defensive player of the week for the third time for his game-turning pick-six against Mars Hill — as well as people you probably haven’t heard of.
Josh Edwards, a guy from Chatham Central High in Bear Creek, made tackles on special teams last week.
“On special teams, you want to go as fast as you can,” Edwards said. “But you still have to do your responsibility. You still have to be in proper position.”
Receiver Gavin Rose, a freshman backup, made a startling catch of the day against Mars Hill, pulling a jump ball out of the sky for a third-down conversion. Rose showed some talent on that catch, extending his 5-foot-10 frame like he was 6-4.
He’s an athlete and said he played all over the place at his Florida high school.
“Wildcat quarterback, defensive back, kick returner, wide receiver and running back,” Rose said.
UNC Pembroke also will bring good athletes to Shuford Stadium.
Rowan County fans will recognize UNCP freshman left guard Chris Hassard and junior center Charles Holloway III right away. Both starred for West Rowan and both are listed as starters by UNC Pembroke.
While the Braves were blown out by North Alabama last week — it was 48-14 at halftime — they did produce some stats. Rontonio Stanley rushed for 148 yards and Patrick O’Brien passed for 165 yards.
“They’re basically a four-wide receiver team, but they’ll spread you out and run the ball,” Walker said.
UNC Pembroke has beaten three CIAA clubs — Winston-Salem State, Fayetteville State and Shaw — all in defensive-minded games.
“They’ve got a couple of good run-stoppers, and they’ve got a defensive end (Mike Keck) with a lot of sacks,” Sheehan said. “They do a lot of stunts and flips upfront, and we’ve struggled some with that. The key for our offense will be to control the line of scrimmage. Control the line of scrimmage and we can win on first down. If we win consistently on first down (4 yards or more), we’ll be fine.”
Catawba won, 30-17, at UNC Pembroke last season. The series is even at 2-2.

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