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College Football: Catawba will host Tuskegee

SALISBURY — After the euphoria of Saturday’s 28-14 win over Lenoir-Rhyne and outright SAC championship, it was back to work on Sunday night for Catawba head coach Curtis Walker and his assistants.
The Indians were already looking at film of Tuskegee. The Golden Tigers from Alabama will be Catawba’s first-round opponent in the Division II playoffs.
Catawba is in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
“This is where we expected to be when the administration gave us this opportunity three years ago,” Walker said. “We played well enough to get a home game and we’ve played well enough to be one of the teams that’s still competing for a national championship.”
As expected, Catawba (9-2) received a No. 3 seed and will play next Saturday afternoon at Shuford Stadium. Tuskegee (8-2) is the No. 6 seed. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m.
Twenty-eight teams — four regions with seven teams each — were selected for the playoffs.
West Georgia, which beat Catawba on opening day, is the top seed in Catawba’s region and received a first-round bye. West Georgia’s Wolves await the winner of the game between perennial powers Carson-Newman, No. 5, and Valdosta State, No. 4. A third SAC team, Newberry, got into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed with a late surge, and plays at No. 2 seed North Alabama.
Tickets for Saturday’s game are on sale through the Catawba Athletic Office at 704-637-4474. Reserved seats will be $15, general admission $10 and $5 for Catawba students, faculty and staff.
Catawba (9-2) enters the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak, its longest since 2007 when the Indians beat Albany State 66-35 in the last playoff game staged at Shuford Stadium.
Tuskegee lost its final regular-season game to Miles, was idle Saturday, and had to wait anxiously on Sunday afternoon to see if it would be included the playoff bracket.
Tuskegee is one of the nation’s most notable HBCU schools academically and also has been stout in football. Under coach Willie Slater, the Golden Tigers are 89-23 the last 10 seasons.
Tuskegee is in the playoffs for the third straight season.
The standout for Tuskegee is 238-pound linebacker Jewell Ratliff, who was named the Defensive Player of the Year for the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Tuskegee has one of the best defenses in Division II and leads the nation in defensive touchdowns with seven.
Receiver Marquel Gardner and running back/kick returner Dennis Norfleet are big-play athletes for Tuskegee. Norfleet is a high-profile transfer from Michigan, where he was one of the best kick returners in Wolverines’ history.
“Last Saturday was an enjoyable time, but we know we’ve got to continue to work this week to keep it going,” Walker said.

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