College Football: Catawba sinks to 3-5 with shootout loss
By Mike London
Each Catawba loss in a difficult season gets a little stranger.
On Saturday at UNC Pembroke’s Grace P. Johnson Stadium, Catawba quarterbacks Reid Carlton and Joseph Dress, who began the season No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on the depth chart, were outstanding and running back David Burgess had 133 rushing yards. But the Indians didn’t get it done defensively, of all places, and fell, 41-31, to the 20th-ranked Braves.
Catawba came into the game as a top-30 defense nationally and top five at forcing turnovers, but UNC Pembroke QB Patrick O’Brien, a senior from Mooresville, lit up the Indians for 396 passing yards and four scores. UNC Pembroke (7-1) was 12-for-21 on third-down conversions.
“We didn’t get enough pressure on their quarterback and he was able to spread the ball around to a lot of different receivers,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said. “Our defense just couldn’t get off the field on third down. We were not able to perform as we like to perform.”
Carlton suffered a sprained ankle in the South Atlantic Conference win at Mars Hill last week and couldn’t practice much, but he was determined to give it a try. He was 12-for-15 for 214 yards when he went down late in the first half. He was hit by two Braves on a scramble and couldn’t continue.
Dress replaced Carlton and was good enough (144 yards rushing and passing) that the Indians (3-5) still could’ve won the game with a few more stops.
O’Brien threw 39 times and was sacked only once. That was by All-America Linebacker Kyle Kitchens.
Cornerback Case Woodard intercepted a pass, while corner Cris Page jumped on a fumble. Safety Chris Carpenter made 10 tackles.
Catawba won the turnover fight, 2-1, but on this day, the pivotal stat was those frequent third-down conversions by the Braves.
UNC Pembroke’s electrifying receiver C.J. Bunn had four catches for 104 yards and two scores, but Walker said the Indians did a good job on him. It was the other receivers who exceeded their normal production that made the difference.
Catawba put up more than 500 yards of offense because it had two month’s worth of big plays in one afternoon. Carlton hit Sam Mobley for a 75-yarder on the game’s first snap and later he connected with Brandon Brown for a 66-yard score. Dress outran the Braves for a 58-yard score in the third quarter. Burgess broke a 73-yard dash in the fourth quarter.
“It was exciting to see our offense make so many big plays,” Walker said. “Great game plan.”
Catawba missed kicks early on a windy day — a PAT and a short field goal — and that played a role in having to fight from behind. Even with Carlton’s long strikes to Mobley (124 receiving yards) and Brown, the Indians trailed 21-13 at the break.
Catawba got within 21-20 when Dress, a dangerous runner, exploded for his touchdown early in the second half and Lee Brackman added the PAT.
But it was homecoming, and the Braves responded to the cheers of 5,683 fans. Matt Davis’ field goal and a 55-yard scoring pass from O’Brien to Tra Chandler pushed the Braves’ lead to 31-20.
Burgess broke his big run immediately after Chandler’s score, and the Indians executed on a two-point conversion pass (receiver Keyon West to Dress) to climb within 31-28 with 11:03 left to play.
With 8:32 remaining, O’Brien connected with Bunn on a 57-yard touchdown pass on a second-and-3 play, and the Braves led 38-28.
Dress led a drive that stalled at the UNC Pembroke 27, but Brackman’s 45-yard field goal with 5:45 remaining made it a 38-31 game.
The Indians called on their defense to get the ball back, but O’Brien won the battle again.
On a third-and-9, he found Quay Threatt for 20 yards for a back-breaking first down. After the Braves pounded for another clock-killing first down, they were able to control the ball until only seconds remained.
On fourth down at the Catawba 36, Davis boomed a 53-yard field goal with 10 seconds left for the final margin. It seemed the Braves were taking an unnecessary risk with a possible block and return — the Indians are good at that — but Davis nailed the long kick.
“I appreciated the way we fought,” Walker said. “But we made too many mistakes to win.”
UNC Pembroke won its ninth straight home game and evened the all-time series with Catawba at 3-all.
The Indians must take their remaining three games to have a winning season.
Catawba is still alive in the SAC race with a 3-1 record. Wingate also has one loss (to Catawba). Newberry remains unbeaten in the league. Newberry and Wingate won’t meet each other until Nov. 12.
Catawba hosts Brevard for homecoming next week.
“We’ll regroup, and I’m sure we’ll play a fine ballgame next Saturday,” Walker said.