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College Football: Catawba at Mars Hill preview

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

CATAWBA (2-4, 2-1 SAC) at MARS HILL (2-4, 0-2 SAC)
Meares Stadium — Today, 1 p.m.
RADIO: WSAT Memories 1280 (Buddy Poole, Brooks Nash)
COACHES: Mars Hill — Tim Clifton is in his 24th season as the Lions’ head coach. The Macon, Ga., native never played college football, but he was a three-sport star in high school. He led prep teams to state titles as a baseball shortstop, football quarterback and basketball point guard. Among other things, Clifton’s high school highlights included a 103-yard interception return.
Clifton graduated from Mercer University and was serving as offensive coordinator at Ferrum, a small Virginia school, when he was hired by Mars Hill. He’s rarely won big, but he’s won steadily and is 127-121 since moving to the mountains. His longevity has made him second in SAC history to Carson-Newman’s Ken Sparks in a lot of categories. Clifton is 6-17 against Catawba.
Catawba — Curtis Walker is in his fourth season. He’s 23-17. The former Catawba linebacker is 2-1 as a head coach against Mars Hill.
LAST WEEK: Catawba would like to forget about a soggy, turnover-plagued, 6-0 home loss to Limestone. Mars Hill was thumped, 35-21, by Newberry. Catawba lost, 35-14, to the Wolves.
SERIES: It began in 1964. Catawba leads the series, 30-24. Playing at Mars Hill, the Indians are 14-10. The bad news is Catawba has lost on its last two trips to Mars Hill.
WORTH MENTIONING: Catawba faces the adversity of getting on a bus today at 8 a.m. to ride to Mars Hill for a 1 p.m. kickoff. It’s a 150-mile trip for the Indians. Mars Hill is about 20 miles north of Asheville.
Catawba notched the 500th win in program history in 2015 when it beat the Lions, 29-10, at home. Not surprisingly, Catawba had no offensive player of the week for the Limestone game, but linebacker Trey Evans (four tackles for loss) was honored for defense and Sam Mobley (five punt returns, 67 yards) was honored for special teams.
WATCH FOR: Catawa free safety Jeremy Addison blocked two kicks last week, so Mars Hill will have to be prepared for him flying around the edge and throwing his body at the football. “Diving to block kicks is something that comes very naturally to me,” Addison said. “We expected to block that field goal Limestone tried in the fourth quarter, but the plan was to block it and take it back for a touchdown. I blocked it, but the ball didn’t bounce. It just got stuck in the mud.”
Walker usually worries more about Catawba than about the opponent, but Mars Hill creates concerns with special skill athletes. Jamel Harbison has rushed 152 times for 771 yards. Craig Rucker has 40 catches for 541 yards.
Mars Hill has thrown more picks (12) than touchdown passes (9), so Catawba’s secondary could come up with turnovers.
Catawba sophomore QB Reid Carlton gets his second start in place of injured Mike Sheehan. The first one didn’t go well, but miserable field conditions were a factor. Catawba’s running game was boosted last week by the return to health of veteran speedster David Burgess.
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on linebacker Kyle Kitchens. His 90-yard interception return for a touchdown took the steam out of the Lions last year.

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