Catawba edges Lenoir-Rhyne with Lambert’s late field goal
By David Shaw
HICKORY — It winds up as a forgettable year for Catawba’s football team, capped by a parting shot worth remembering.
The Indians’ season-ending victory Saturday at Lenoir-Rhyne was a fall classic — never one of those no-doubt-about-it home runs, but still a solid, three-base hit.
“I’m just proud that we fought until the end and found a way to win,” coach Curtis Walker exhaled after Catawba rallied for a 16-14 South Atlantic Conference triumph. “Nothing came easy.”
The outcome wasn’t secured until freshman kicker Brennan Lambert, a South Rowan High School product, booted a 30-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining, giving Catawba (5-6, 5-2) its only lead. Even that seemed precarious until defensive back Jeremy Addison tipped a pass and teammate D.J. Jackson picked it off near midfield with 12 seconds to play.
“It was exciting to know we had just finished them off,” said defensive end C.J. Barksdale, one of seven Catawba starters who played their final game. “And definitely worth it.”
He’s talking about all the adversity and challenge the Indians faced during a season that drifted in and out of focus. There was the early-October broken ankle that ended starting quarterback Mike Sheehan’s career, a couple of two-game losing streaks and a miserable, unexpected loss in hurricane-related rain five weeks ago. “Sometimes you need a gut check,” sophomore Joseph Dress said. “That’s what this year was.”
Yesterday’s win won’t erase the stain of a season that was blemished from the start, but it may serve as a springboard to better days. Dress was instrumental as a fourth-quarter replacement for injured quarterback Reid Carlton, who passed for 166 yards but was helped to the sideline after being sacked for the third time. With the calm of a theater usher, Dress crafted the game’s decisive drive — guiding the Indians from their own 12-yard line to L-R 12 in 85 nerve-wracking, waning-moment seconds. Never mind that Catawba had already burned its final timeout on its next-to-last possession.
“Cool, calm and relaxing,” he said afterward. “We were all on the same page.”
It unfolded in spectacular fashion. On second down, Dress spiraled a 13-yard completion to wideout Keyon West along the left sideline and two plays later, he found the junior unattended across the middle for a 39-yard pickup to the L-R 37.
“It was a two-way go,” West said after making six receptions for 87 yards. “But they took the play away and when I saw Dress scrambling, I worked my way back to the quarterback. (Walker) told me to demand the ball. I know what I can do if I get the ball in my hands. I knew I could make a play.”
Next came two completions to slot receiver Sam Mobley and a short, straight-ahead run by senior David Burgess. Following a spiked ball with 25 seconds on the clock, Lambert was summoned to kick his third field goal of the day.
“They tried to ice me by calling time,” Lambert said after finishing 10-for-14 on field goal attempts this fall. “But that doesn’t change anything. I just focused on the kick. The distance never worries me because I’ve got the leg. I just had to go out and kick it.”
It gave Catawba a promise to build on. The Indians finished with 352 total yards, 21 first downs and tied for second place in the conference standings. Not to be overlooked was a stellar defensive performance. L-R was 2-for-14 on third-down plays and checked in with only 132 total yards and eight first downs. Linebacker Michael Peppers had 11 tackles for Catawba, while Barksdale was in on 10 and recorded one of the Indians’ four sacks. Teammate Kyle Kitchens was credited with eight tackles and 2.5 sacks.
“We prepared for this all week,” Kitchens said. “Our mindset was ‘We can’t lose.’ Then we all came together as brothers and believed we could win.”