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College Football: Catawba hosts St. Augustine’s tonight

St. Augustine’s (2-8 in 2016) at Catawba (5-6 in 2016)

Shuford Stadium — Tonight, 7 p.m.

Coaches —  Bethune-Cookman graduate Tim Chavous was interim head coach for eight games in 2015 and was officially named as St. Augustine’s head coach in February, 2016. His record is 3-15. His first full season was a struggle, but the Falcons expect to be much improved.  Catawba coach Curtis Walker (26-19) begins his fifth season, with the Indians eager to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 season. Until last year, the Indians had been on a steady upward climb.

Last game: Catawba finished 2016 with a tough win at Lenoir-Rhyne to go 5-2 in the South Atlantic Conference. That victory provided some momentum that’s carried through the offseason and into a new campaign. St. Augustine’s wrapped up the 2016 CIAA season with a 35-32 Senior  Day loss to its rival in Raleigh — Shaw.

Series: St. Augustine’s surprisingly leads 3-1 and the Falcons have won both games played at Shuford Stadium (2008, 2010). Catawba’s lone win in the series came in 2009 in Raleigh. In the most recent meeting in 2011, St. Augustine’s scored 17 points off turnovers and pummeled the Indians in Raleigh, 30-5.

Players to watch: St. Augustine’s wide receiver Sam Boyd (6-4, 250) has serious size and had seven touchdown catches last year. He’s getting NFL attention and is obviously a matchup problem.  Defensive lineman Chasz Cosby led the Falcons in tackles last year. Tight end Aaron Linen is another quality receiver, and the Falcons have a veteran QB starter in D.J. Johnson. He’s a dual-threat athlete who led the team in rushing as well as passing in 2016.

“They’re pretty strong on the defensive line, they’ve got very good receivers, a 215-pound running back who is a load and a returning QB,” Walker said.

Catawba counters with a stellar linebacking group that includes returning starters Kyle Kitchens, Michael Peppers and Trey Evans, three of the SAC’s best defenders. Catawba has two QBs (returner Reid Carlton, UNC Pembroke transfer Patrick O’Brien) who are capable of being the SAC Player of the Year. Eamon Smart leads the running game, while Sam Mobley and Keyon West are among the SAC’s finest receivers.

Forecasts: Catawba was picked to finish fourth in the SAC, while St. Augustine’s is picked to finish third in the CIAA’s Southern Division.

Weather: Rain is on the way and is likely to affect play. Catawba has experienced multiple rain-and-mud disasters in recent years, but they’ve worked in some bad-weather conditions in the preseason.

Outlook: This one is more important than the standard non-conference opener. Both teams really need to get off on the right foot. Expected to be a powerhouse last season, Catawba dug an 0-2 hole right out of the gate and never really recovered. Catawba managed to blast Carson-Newman and throttle Wingate in September, but then staggered through a three-loss October.

St. Augustine’s also needs a good start. The Falcons haven’t won since their last road trip to Salisbury on Oct. 9 of last season. That was a 38-37, two-overtime victory at Livingstone.

There’s no logical explanation for it, but Catawba has played significantly better on the road under Walker (15-8) than at home (11-11).  Tonight’s game is a chance to change that trend. It’s also a chance to beat a team outside the SAC. Catawba’s last non-conference win came against UNC Pembroke on Oct. 24, 2015.

“St. Augustine’s will be a tough team,” Walker said. “But this is one is going to be all about us taking care of us and being ready for the challenge.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students ages 6 to 17. Children ages 5 and under are admitted free.

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