College Football: Catawba at UNC Pembroke
By Mike London
CATAWBA (3-4) at UNC PEMBROKE (6-1)
Grace P. Johnson Stadium — Today, 2 p.m.
RADIO: WSAT Memories 1280 Live stats and video available at uncpbraves.com
COACHES: UNC Pembroke — Shane Richardson. A linebacker at Northern Michigan, Richardson coached at Northern Michigan, Jamestown and North Dakota State. When UNC Pembroke started its program in 2007, Richardson was hired as defensive coordinator under head coach Pete Shinnick and served in that role for seven seasons. After Shinnick left in 2014 to get a program started at West Florida, Richardson was named head coach. Richardson now is in his third season at the helm of the Braves and this season’s strong start as pushed his overall record to 14-13. He’s 0-2 against Catawba.
Catawba — Curtis Walker. Walker, a former linebacker and a defensive coordinator at Catawba, Coastal Carolina and Western Carolina, was hired in 2013. He’s in his fourth season and is 24-17. Walker is 2-1 against UNC Pembroke and won on his last trip to UNC Pembroke (30-17) in 2014 as well as last season (39-21) at Shuford Stadium.
LAST WEEK: Catawba rebounded well from the dismal Limestone loss. The Indians won the turnover battle handily at Mars Hill and won the game, 33-22. UNC Pembroke won 43-20 against Kentucky Wesleyan, avenging a 2015 loss to the Panthers.
SERIES: Catawba leads 3-2. The teams have played every season since 2011. UNC Pembroke’s most recent win was 34-31, at Catawba, in 2013.
WORTH MENTIONING: Based on the records, the Indians are underdogs, but they have a reasonable chance of success.
Catawba running back David Burgess had a humongous game against UNC Pembroke in 2015 with 149 rushing yards, but the key stat for Catawba every week is turnovers.
For the season, Catawba’s defense has 22 takeaways to rank third nationally. Catawba is plus-8 in turnover margin for the season. Catawba cornerback Case Woodard has scored a touchdown on a turnover in every game that Catawba has won.
This will be UNC Pembroke’s first game at Johnson Stadium since Sept. 24, and it’s homecoming, so fans are going to be excited. That should mean major home-field advantage for UNC Pembroke.
UNC Pembroke played last week’s “home” game at Scotland County High in Laurinburg, as the community faced challenges with power outages and flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
UNC Pembroke is ranked 20th in D-II. The Braves’ lone loss was by 21-16 to a strong Tuskegee team on Oct. 1. Tuskegee (6-0) eliminated Catawba from last season’s D-II playoffs.
UNC Pembroke also owns two quality wins — against Winston-Salem State (5-2) and North Greenville (4-3). Winston-Salem State edged Catawba early this season.
WATCH FOR: Former West Rowan standout Chris Hassard starts at center for the Braves. Former A.L. Brown star Kaleel Hollis starts at strong safety. Hollis found a home at UNC Pembroke after a journey that included stints at Lenoir-Rhyne and J.C. Smith.
The players who gave Catawba trouble in 2015 are still in uniform. QB Patrick O’Brien (Mooresville) passed for 396 yards against the Indians in last year’s game. He completes 65 percent of his passes.
Making 12 catches for 219 yards against Catawba last year was receiver B.J. Bunn, who broke school records. Catawba will try to get Woodard matched up with Bunn as often as possible.
Catawba also has to worry about returner Tra Chandler, who returned the opening kickoff 93 yards last Saturday.
The defensive units are even. Catawba allows 22.1 points per game. UNC Pembroke allows 22.9.
Looking ahead, Catawba will be favored in SAC games against Brevard, Tusculum and Lenoir-Rhyne.
Teams that go 7-4 and finish strong have made the D-II playoffs — Newberry accomplished that feat in 2015 — so the Indians will be trying to keep that hope alive.
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