College football: Indians on the road at SAC champ L-R
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Basketball season is getting started and the women’s soccer team surprisingly made the regional, so only about half of the chatter at Catawba’s weekly press conference was actually about football.
That’s a little different, a little strange for early November, but, then again, it’s been a 3-6 football season, and the curtain is rapidly closing.
On Saturday, the football Indians make the short trip to Hickory to play Lenoir-Rhyne, their biggest traditional rival.
It’s a matchup that normally generates excitement, electricity even, but things seem pretty quiet. Chances of an upset appear remote.
For one thing, Lenoir-Rhyne (9-1, 6-0) has dominated the South Atlantic Conference and clinched the championship last week.
Wingate and Carson-Newman had them down a while, but the Bears got stronger and tougher as those games went along.
For another thing, Catawba was pummeled at Newberry last week, 40-10. Trailing 7-3 early, Catawba was behind 40-3 when it pushed across a fourth-quarter touchdown. That outing didn’t inspire much confidence.
At full strength, Catawba would have its hands full with Lenoir-Rhyne. It’s unlikely the Indians will be anywhere close to full strength for Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff at Moretz Stadium.
“I’d like to say we’re going to go up there healthy, but I can’t,” head coach Curtis Walker said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that I would say are day to day.”
It’s Senior Day for the Bears, who have put together a fabulous season that includes a No. 2 regional ranking.
They were picked sixth in the SAC in the preseason poll. They were picked behind four teams that they’ve whipped. Catawba, picked third, is next on the list.
L-R head coach Drew Cronic, hired last December, is quickly developing a reputation as a miracle-worker. His career record as a college head coach, is 31-4. Cronic was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Furman before coming to Hickory. Before that, he was doing amazing things at Reinhardt, an NAIA school in Georgia.
Lenoir-Rhyne has run the football extremely well and ranks seventh nationally in D-II with 281.5 rushing yards per game.
“What they’re doing offensively is a lot different than what we saw from them last year,” Catawba defensive lineman Jordan Hemingway said. “Watching them on film, we were really surprised at how different they are.”
Lenoir-Rhyne also is a top-25 team nationally when it comes to stopping the run. The Bears permit 111.7 yards per game.
Run the ball and stop the run. That’s a foundation upon which many successful football teams have been built.
What makes this group of Bears really scary is they also throw the ball efficiently. Sophomore QB Grayson Willingham has tied the school record with 18 TD passes.
Lenoir-Rhyne is plus-10 on turnovers, a stat which has contributed mightily to a nine-game winning streak since a setback in the opener against West Alabama.
Catawba is minus-2 on turnovers.
The player to watch on defense for the Bears is junior linebacker Sherrod Williams, the SAC Defensive Player of the Week the last two weeks.
Catawba beat L-R last November, 24-20, to cap a 9-2 season. That win was expected to be a springboard into the D-II playoffs, but the Indians were left out. There hasn’t been a lot of good news since then.
Catawba leads the all-time series 49-44-4. Walker is 3-2 against the Bears.
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