College Football: Catawba keeps rolling
By Mike London
South Atlantic Conference champions has a nice ring to it.
Catawba’s football team won its sixth game in a row on Saturday, whipping Tusculum, 24-6, in Greeneville, Tenn., and clinching a share of the conference championship.
It’s the first league title for the Indians since 2007.
“It’s one more step,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said in a phone interview. “Guys were pretty excited, jumping up and down in the locker room, but things settled down quickly. We know we’re not done yet. We’ve got one more game we need to win to win the conference outright.”
That game will be against Lenoir-Rhyne next Saturday on Kirkland Field at Shuford Stadium. L-R has ended the last six Catawba seasons by beating the Indians, but Catawba is in position to do something about it. Catawba has control of its own destiny. A victory next Saturday would assure Catawba of a return to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Tusculum’s game plan was simple — stop the run by outnumbering the Indians with eight, or even nine, defenders in the box.
It made sense. Catawba (8-2, 5-1) has struggled to throw at times, and has struggled mightily to complete passes in wet weather conditions.
But Saturday was Catawba QB Mike Sheehan’s day. Rain had no effect on him.
Sheehan was 14-for-24 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.
“We saw they were committed to stopping our running game, and I told (offensive coordinator) Kevin Brown to go get it, to take the lid off and open it up,” Walker said. “We took our shots deep, and even though we missed on two chances for big plays early, it helped loosen them up.”
Tusculum (4-6, 2-4) opened the scoring with a field goal, but Catawba had two second-quarter scoring drives to take control.
Sheehan completed key passes to Gary Williams and Carlos Tarrats on the first scoring drive and got the touchdown himself from the 2-yard line.
Then Catawba drove 89 yards to lead 14-3. The touchdown came when the Indians fooled Tusculum on a 25-yard shuttle pass from Sheehan to David Burgess. Burgess dragged several tacklers into the end zone.
Catawba made it 21-3 early in the second half on Sheehan’s 37-yard scoring pass to Brandon Brown.
After Will Tommie kicked his second field goal for the Pioneers late in the third quarter, Chad Hollandsworth answered with a 22-yard field goal for the Indians early in the fourth quarter.
Tarrats had five catches for 85 yards.
Catawba got its running game going enough to produce 143 rushing yards. Cary Littlejohn was the workhorse, with 100 yards on 21 carries. He’s the eighth Catawba back to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards.
Catawba’s defense enjoyed another dynamic day. Tusculum came into the contest averaging 31 points per game and 400 yards. Catawba kept the Pioneers out of the end zone and allowed 320 yards, many of them in the fourth quarter after the game was no longer in doubt.
Catawba limited Tusculum’s most dangerous player, receiver Justin Houston, to seven catches for 48 yards. Houston had 16 catches the previous week.
“We got after them on defense pretty good,” Walker said. “We played a lot with nickel (five DBs) and dime (six DBs) packages because we knew we had to limit their passing game. We didn’t believe they could beat us running the ball. That proved to be the case.”
Jeremiah Rowland and DaiQuan Lawrence were the DBs that had larger roles than usual for the Indians on Saturday.
Trey Evans and Jonathan Jean made nine tackles each for the Indians. C.J. Barksdale and Michael Peppers had eight apiece. Jean, Barksdale and Kyle Kitchens had sacks.
West Rowan grad Emmanuel Gbunblee had a good game for the Pioneers. He produced his team’s only sack and was credited with eight tackles.