College Football: Catawba at Tusculum
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Catawba’s football team will make its last scheduled road trip of the season when it travels to Greeneville, Tenn., to take on Tusculum today at 1:30 p.m.
The first-place Indians (7-2, 4-1 SAC) clinch a share of the SAC championship if they prevail.
Winning five consecutive games breeds confidence. To a man, from head coach Curtis Walker on down to the redshirts, the Indians believe there will be postseason activity for the program for the first time since 2007.
Think about how long it’s been. Even Catawba’s most grizzled veterans, 24-year-old guard Tim Pangburn and 23-year-old cornerback Mark McDaniel, were high school kids worried about driver’s licenses and proms the last time Catawba was involved in an NCAA D-II playoff game.
There is still quite a bit of work to do. Catawba is fifth in this week’s regional rankings, down one spot from a week ago. Seven teams in the three-conference region will make the playoffs.
Coach Curtis Walker was stoic about dropping a spot in those rankings despite winning, 29-7, at Brevard.
“We can’t control how people will vote in a poll,” Walker said. “The only thing we’ve got control over is winning our next game. All we’re thinking about is Tusculum.”
Tusculum has been coached for its last 194 games by Frankie DeBusk, and DeBusk has coached 17 times against Catawba. He’s won six and lost 11. One of those six victories came two years ago when Catawba lost, 43-25, on its last journey to Tusculum.
Catawba avenged that loss emphatically last season at home — 51-21.
“But we haven’t forgotten that game two years ago when they wore our butts out up there,” Walker said. “They embarrassed us a week after we beat Carson-Newman.”
Tusculum (4-5, 2-3 SAC) has handled three teams it was supposed to beat — Virginia-Wise, Brevard and Limestone. Tusculum’s signature win was at home against Wingate (26-17) on Oct. 10. That’s a victory that serves as a reminder that Tusculum is dangerous, considering Wingate shut out Catawba in Salisbury.
Tusculum has always thrown a lot. This season, the Pioneers are passing 57 percent of the time — mostly short, quick, move-the-chains throws— and running 43 percent of the time.
QB Luke Lancaster and receiver Justin Houston are the guys to watch for Tusculum. In last week’s 31-24 loss to Mars Hill, Lancaster, a sophomore, threw for 369 yards, but he also was intercepted on four of his 59 pass attempts.
Houston had an astounding 16 receptions last week. Walker acknowledges that he’s a special player.
“We’ve got to be thespians and good actors to get stops against Tusculum,” Walker said. “We’ve got to show them one thing, but then we’ve got to do something else. We’ve got to disguise our coverages and we’ve got about two seconds to get pressure on their quarterback or disrupt his passing lane because he’s going to get the ball out of his hands quickly.”
Wet weather is almost a certainty in Tennessee today. That could be an advantage for a Catawba team that has become increasingly reliant on a grinding ground game. It’s not fancy, but it’s been effective. Catawba rushed for a season-high 363 yards last week.
Catawba started slowly at Brevard, but Catawba’s defense kept Brevard’s offense on its side of the 50 on seven of nine possessions.
“We can’t say we’re disappointed with what we did at Brevard because we won and our offense got into high gear in the second half,” Walker said. “But we’ll need to get started a lot faster at Tusculum.”
Catawba ends the regular season next week at home with the traditional game against Lenoir-Rhyne.
For the first time since 2007, there might be some football after L-R.
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