College Football: Catawba can’t overcome 7 turnovers
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The caked mud, the grime, and the thick, mountain-man beard made him look 10 years older, but Logan Stoodley is still Logan Stoodley.
The former West Rowan linebacker, now a Limestone junior and playing virtually in his backyard, made 11 tackles on Saturday at water-logged Shuford Stadium. He was a large part of the Saints’ 6-0 upset of Catawba.
“Logan’s our captain, a leader, and he played the best game today he’s ever played for Limestone,” jubilant LC coach Mike Furrey said.
Catawba (2-4) suffered a devastating non-conference loss despite dominating as completely as any losing team has ever dominated. Catawba won first downs, 21-2, and total yards, 322-48, but still lost on the scoreboard to a team that didn’t make a first down until it moved the chains on a pass-interference flag with 12 minutes left in the game.
“It was a frustrating day,” Catawba receiver Bruce Smith said. “We should’ve punched in several scores when we had the chance, but we didn’t.”
The only points came on the second snap of the afternoon. Catawba back Eamon Smart took a handoff and lost a slippery handle when he was thumped by cornerback P.J. Brown. Outside linebacker Raymond Hall made the scoop-and-score, storming 34 yards down the sideline, and the Saints owned a 6-0 lead while soggy fans were still being seated.
With the aid of seven Catawba turnovers, including three interceptions by Limestone cornerback Joshua Simmons, the Saints (4-2) would hold that lead all afternoon.
“We won two weeks ago at Lenoir-Rhyne, a program that played for the national championship three years ago, and we beat a Catawba team today that was in the playoffs last year and won the SAC,” Furrey said. “Our guys played so hard and so relentlessly. Huge wins for our program, and they earned them.”
It was a difficult day for Catawba sophomore quarterback Reid Carlton, who was making his first start in place of injured veteran Mike Sheehan. Carlton was 9-for-25 for 117 yards. He was picked off five times and sacked twice.
Catawba’s defense shined through the gloom, destroying running plays and allowing one pass completion — for a loss. Linebacker Trey Evans and linemen C.J. Barksdale and Jordan Hemingway piled up four tackles for loss each, while All-America linebacker Kyle Kitchens had three.
DB Jared Lee had an interception. Cornerback Case Woodard blocked Limestone’s PAT try. Safety Jeremy Addison smothered a field goal.
“Our defense played very well,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said. “Offensively, we moved the ball, but we had woes in the red zone.”
Field-goal attempts in the muddy conditions created by Hurricane Matthew were virtually impossible, and that contributed to Catawba going 0-for-5 in the red zone. Entering the game, Catawba had produced points on 16 of its 19 trips to the red zone.
Limestone’s defense played virtually the entire first half, grimly shoving back every time Catawba pushed forward. In the second quarter, Catawba started at the Limestone 26, 35 and 37 on consecutive possessions but came up empty each time.
“Mud games are always fun for a defensive guy,” Stoodley said. “Catawba has very talented backs, I was impressed with them, but every person on our defense did his job. No one tried to do anything extravagant. Everyone stayed patient, and when it was your time to make a play, you made it.”
At halftime, Catawba still seemed to be destined for victory. Limestone couldn’t do anything offensively, and it appeared it was just a matter of time before Catawba broke through.
But Limestone didn’t waver, didn’t fold. The offensive philosophy for the Saints, directed by freshman QB Ivan Corbin, was simple — don’t make a big mistake.
“We could tell before the game that field conditions were going to be terrible, and it was going to be difficult for the offenses to execute,” Furrey said. “After we got that quick touchdown from our defense, we weren’t going to be very aggressive on offense as long as we had the lead. We were going to run the ball, punt (11 times) and trust our defense. If Catawba had scored, we would’ve had to open things up more, but that never happened.”
Early in the second half, Catawba started a “drive” at the Limestone 42. The Indians didn’t move far, but Caleb Berry’s punt was downed at the Limestone 1-yard line.
Punting from its end zone with maximum protection, Limestone had difficulty covering its next punt, and Catawba speedster Sam Mobley took it back to the Limestone 19.
But, from there, the Saints stood firm against four straight running plays. Stoodley made the stops on second and third downs, and Carlton was halted short of the chains on a fourth-and-2 run.
After that opportunity was squandered, even the most optimistic Catawba fan started to worry.
Late in the third quarter, Carlton broke right-side runs of 14 and 18 yards, as Catawba drove from its 46 to the Limestone 9. But a false-start penalty pushed the Indians back, and Carlton was intercepted by Brown on fourth-and-goal.
In the fourth quarter, desperation and frustration began to creep in, and then Catawba had a punt blocked with 7:58 left to play.
Limestone then produced its only offensive highlight when Corbin escaped the pass rush on a third-and-10 play and sprinted 33 yards to the Catawba 15 before Woodard pulled him down.
Catawba held, and Addison blocked what would’ve been a clinching field goal with 4:21 left. That block gave Catawba the ball for what would be its last chance to salvage victory.
On Catawba’s final drive, Smart ran for 12 yards to the Catawba 39, Carlton hit Smith for 21 yards, and then Carlton scrambled 12 yards for a first down on a third-and-10. That put the ball at the Limestone 28.
After Smart burst through the line for another sizable chunk of yardage, Carlton connected with Jourdan Osinskie at the Limestone 3. Now it was first-and-goal, and Catawba still had more than a minute.
Smart was stopped for no gain on first down. On second down, it was going to be another handoff to Smart, and there was a hole, but the exchange between Carlton and Smart was off, and the wet football went tumbling to the grass. When Limestone defensive end Mason Dadian jumped on it, the Indians were doomed.
“I had outside contain, but then I saw the ball come loose and went after it,” Dadian said. “When everyone got off that pile, and I was standing there holding the ball up, it was the greatest feeling in the world.”
While it was an emotional win for Limestone, it was a day of sheer agony for the Indians.
“We fought all day and it’s not like anyone on our team wanted to lose this ballgame,” a drained Walker said. “But in tough conditions, the team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to win.”
That team was Limestone.
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