College football preview: Tusculum at Catawba

Published 2:30 am Friday, October 19, 2018

By Mike London

SALISBURY  — After four straight setbacks, Catawba head football coach Curtis Walker needed to recharge his emotional batteries, and he knew the guy who could give him a lift.

He headed to visit 94-year-old Catawba men’s basketball coaching legend Sam Moir at the VA hospital.

“The first thing Coach Moir said to me was, ‘I guess things aren’t going quite as well as you’d like,'” Walker said with a laugh. “We had a great visit. Coach Moir has seen all the ups and downs that you see in the coaching profession, and his mind is as sharp as ever. I left him in a good frame of mind, confident that everything is going to be OK.”

It’s been a draining stretch for Walker and Catawba because even with a brutal injury situation, it’s not like the Indians are getting wiped out. You can argue that they should’ve won the Mars Hill and Carson-Newman games. The  final margin of defeat was a little wider, but they certainly had their chances against Albany State and in last Saturday’s 35-25 loss to Wingate.

Catawba put together a 99-yard drive against Wingate, and when you can do that against a formidable defense, you know your offense is capable of very good things.

“Those Wingate guys were big and strong,” Catawba right guard Darius Jackson said. “But there were times we moved the ball. We’ve got a lot of nicks and bruises right now, but we’re making progress.”

Catawba won’t just be looking for progress Saturday afternoon, it will be looking for a victory against Tusculum in the 1:30 p.m.  homecoming game at Shuford Stadium.

Tusculum (4-2, 3-1) celebrated homecoming royally a week ago, shutting out Newberry, 14-0, and the Indians (1-5, 0-3 South Atlantic Conference) would like to put together a similar performance.

Catawba figures to play again Saturday without quarterback Reid Carlton, running back Demonte Good and Jourdan Osinskie, three offensive playmakers.

Redshirt freshman QB Ken Avent has performed in promising fashion as Carlton’s replacement. He lacks Carlton’s size and arm strength, but he’s an accurate passer and an exciting runner.

“He’s given us an added dimension as a running threat,” Walker said. “He’s quick.”

Will Sweeper has emerged as a thrilling deep-ball target for Avent, while another receiver, Dre Dunbar, enjoyed a huge game last week. Catawba coaches designated Dunbar the “Catawba Chief,” the player of the game at Wingate.

Dunbar was so good against Wingate (5 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD) that he started attracting double teams.

“That made me feel pretty good,” Dunbar said.

“Sweeper got his second touchdown because Wingate chose to play him one-on-one so they could have double coverage on Dunbar,” Walker added. “They were worried about where No. 80 was. Dunbar is a   talented young man and he’s a smart receiver who the coaches like because he’s always where he’s supposed to be. It’s all about developing threats and having multiple offensive weapons who can help open up other players.”

Dunbar came to Catawba from North Augusta, S.C., to follow his close friend, former Catawba receiver Keyon West. He has 14 catches for the season for 195 yards.

Coming out of high school, Dunbar signed with Mars Hill. He’s had a roundabout journey, but now he’s found a home.

Tusculum’s defense will present challenges for Catawba. The Pioneers are ranked second in the SAC in scoring defense.

“They show you some very unusual defensive looks to try to confuse you,” Walker said.

Catawba is fourth in the SAC in passing, sixth in rushing.

Tusculum is unremarkable on offense, fifth in the SAC  in rushing and passing. Tom Pistone has thrown six TD passes, while Jordon Shippy has rushed for 80-plus yards per game.

“Our focus is stopping the run and that won’t change with Tusculum,” aggressive Catawba defensive end Robert Chery said. “We’ve got to take care of gap responsibilities and we’ve got shut down the long runs.”

Catawba has managed only 10 third-quarter points all season, so that will be something to watch. Catawba’s defense has struggled in the second quarter, allowing 74 points.

Catawba is minus-5 on turnovers for the season. Catawba also converts third downs at a 33-percent rate, while allowing a 43-percent success rate. Those stats have contributed to some tough losses.

But a win today would change everyone’s grim mood. Every game this season has been winnable, and today’s should be no exception.

This will be the 23rd meeting. Catawba leads the all-time series, 15-7, and blasted Tusculum last season, 40-13, on the road.