College Football: Wingate-Catawba preview box
WINGATE (5-0, 2-0 SAC) at CATAWBA (5-1, 1-1 SAC)
Kirkland Field at Shuford Stadium.
Today, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: WSAT Memories 1280.
LAST WEEK: Catawba played a splendid first half and a lousy second half, but made plays in overtime and beat North Greenville, 26-20. Wingate overcame a lot of mistakes to beat UNC Pembroke, 31-28, in foggy conditions.
COACHES — Catawba coach Curtis Walker (31-20) is in his fifth season as head coach. At 5-1, Catawba is off to its best start since 2007 when it won its first seven outings. Walker, a linebacker in his Catawba playing days, was SAC Coach of the Year in 2015.
Wingate’s Joe Reich (106-73) has been at the helm of the Bulldogs for 17 seasons and has coached more wins than anyone in Wingate history. He’s been SAC Coach of the Year twice. Reich played high school football in Pennsylvania and was an offensive lineman in college at Gettysburg College. He was a math major. He had a stint as defensive coordinator at Buffalo University before coming to Wingate. He’s the brother of Frank Michael Reich, who was an NFL QB for 14 seasons.
SERIES: This is the 34th meeting. Counting the games when Wingate was a junior college, Catawba leads 20-13, but the Bulldogs have won five of the last six and nine of the last 13. Catawba took advantage of a spree of turnovers to pound the Bulldogs, 48-26, last season. That might’ve been the Indians’ best game all season.
KEY PLAYERS: Wingate running back Lawrence Pittman is one of the league’s best and pounded for 165 yards last week. He has 536 rushing yards for the season. Linebacker Robbie Wallace is the leading tackler in the SAC with 9.0 stops per game. Sophomore receiver Jay Hood caught the game-deciding TD pass last week.
Catawba back Eamon Smart ranks 38th nationally with 572 rushing yards. QB Patrick O’Brien leads the SAC with 13 TD passes. Sam Mobley ranks second in the SAC in receiving yards with nearly 100 per game. Linebacker Kyle Kitchens leads the SAC with eight sacks.
WORTH MENTIONING: Wingate and Newberry enter today’s game tied for first in the SAC at 2-0. Wingate’s signature win to date was a victory over a Carson-Newman team that beat Catawba. The Bulldogs also have beaten the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears in league play. Catawba’s only league outing was a victory against Mars Hill.
Wingate was picked second in the SAC preseason poll, while Catawba was picked fourth.
Wingate is very good on special teams and has two punt-return touchdowns.
After years in the junior college ranks, Wingate’s first game as a senior college was against Catawba in 1988.
While Lenoir-Rhyne and Carson-Newman were Catawba’s two serious rivals for years, Walker acknowledged that Wingate has moved up to that status.
OUTLOOK: It figures to be an exciting homecoming game, certainly the most important game of the season for Catawba, which has to win to stay in the hunt for the SAC championship. Catawba buried a turnover-plagued Wingate team last fall, but if the Bulldogs take care of the football, it should be a four-quarter struggle. Pittman is a special player, and the Indians will have their work cut out to contain him. Catawba’s defense allows the fewest points in the SAC, but this is almost always a rivalry where it takes 30 points to win.
The 1994, 2005 and 2012 Wingate-Catawba contests went overtime.
NEXT WEEK: Catawba travels to Greeneville, Tenn., to take on Tusculum at 2:30 p.m. Wingate goes to Mars Hill for a 1:30 kickoff.