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College football: Catawba Indians on road Saturday night

By Mike London

mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Start 0-1 and everyone blames correctable mistakes and chalks the “L” up to experience.

But start 0-2, even if it’s just non-conference stuff, and some of the loftier goals for the season are in serious jeopardy. Fans get antsy. Coaches lose sleep.

Catawba has started its 100th season of football with an 0-1 record. Also 0-1 are the Winston-Salem State Rams, who will provide the opposition for the Indians on Saturday.

So it’s an important early test for two teams that expect to have winning seasons. Kickoff is on the grass at historic Bowman Gray Stadium at 6 p.m.

CIAA school Winston-Salem State is led by Robert Massey, who was named interim coach back in the spring. Massey, who played 10 seasons in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl in 1992, spent six years as a CIAA head coach, with two years at Livingstone and four at Shaw.

Catawba is led by head coach Curtis Walker. Time flies, and this is already the seventh year at the helm for one of Catawba’s all-time great players. His career record is 39-29. He’s put together two fine teams during his tenure — the 9-3 club of  2015 and the 9-2 team of 2017.

Catawba is a respectable 20-14 on the road under Walker, virtually identical to his 19-14 record in home games.

Winston-Salem State started fiercely at UNC Pembroke last Saturday and led 21-10, but faded and lost 27-21.  The Rams blamed missed tackles, some of them near-sacks that turned into big plays for UNCP.

Catawba hung with 15th-ranked West Georgia until late in the first half last Saturday, but West Georgia struck for two quick scores, one on a pick-six, took a 23-3 lead, and went on to claim a 37-9 victory. While Catawba played more competitively than it sounds, the bottom line was still 0-1.

“We did some good things,” defensive end Robert Chery said. “But we missed too many tackles and didn’t get any turnovers. This week we expect to improve in those areas. We also have to do a better job of getting third-down stops and getting the defense off the field.”

Dominique Graves, a sophomore quarterback who threw three TD passes, and Farrell Murchison, a big back (listed at 228, but probably 240) who pounded for 109 yards in the opener, are expected to challenge Catawba’s defense. Murchison, who rushed for 5,700 yards in high school at East Bladen, is quite a story. He’s beaten cancer.

We may not know who Catawba’s quarterback is going to be until shortly before game time. Winston-Salem State won’t know either, so the Rams have to prepare for both.

Ken Avent, who sustained a foot injury in practice prior to the West Georgia game, is the incumbent and the more experienced QB, but Kendall Davis, who stepped in last Saturday, is an athlete with considerable potential. Davis handled himself with  poise in his first college start.. The Indians should have a chance to win no matter who starts against the Rams. Catawba’s depth chart lists both QBs as the potential starter. Avent’s injury has been considered day-to-day.

Demonte Good is expected to pace Catawba’s running game. He wasn’t spectacular, but he was steadily productive in the opener. The offense line looked solid.

“We were physical upfront and ran the ball well against a big West Georgia defense,” Good said. “We expect more blitzes from Winston-Salem State. They blitz a lot.”

Catawba’s first line of defense against Murchison and WSSU’s running game will be nose guard Steven Thurston, a sophomore who has changed his body in the past two years. Thurston has added pounds since he was in high school at North Rowan,  but it’s great weight. He looks leaner and meaner.

“I’ve toned up a lot,” Thurston said. “I really enjoy nose guard, doing my job, tying up two blockers and freeing our linebackers up to make tackles.”

Catawba corner Cris Page made four breakups in the opener, while free safety Brenden Westbrook, the former Carson standout, made 10 tackles. Linebacker Jeremiah Ferguson had a sack and several more impact plays. He’s a good one.

•••

NOTES: Catawba leads the series 5-1. The Rams got their lone triumph in 2016. … Catawba thumped the Rams 34-7 in 2018, but that would prove to be Catawba’s only win prior to beating Tusculum well into October. … Catawba hopes to get speedy receiver Will Sweeper more involved this week. He was held to one catch for 3 yards against West Georgia. … Catawba plays at UNC Pembroke next week before returning home for a night game against Wingate. … Walker’s wife LaSheka, a development officer at Catawba, is a Winston-Salem State alum. … Former Catawba quarterback Reid Carlton graduated with a degree in integrated marketing communications and a minor in business administration. … Historic Bowman Gray opened in 1938 with a Duke-Wake Forest football game. … Winston-Salem State has announced some safety-related changes for fans.  There are strict limits to the size and type of bags fans can take into the stadium.”Among the prohibited items are purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, cinch bags or fanny packs, luggage, computer or camera bags or any bag larger than the permissible size. Approved items are clear, plastic vinyl bags that do not exceed 12 inches in length, seat cushions that are no wider than 16 inches, small clutch bags that are approximately 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches, and one gallon clear plastic freezer bags.”

 

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