College football: Bulldogs have been bad news (Wingate at Catawba preview)
By Mike London
SALISBURY — When Curtis Walker returned to Salisbury as Catawba’s head football coach in 2012 he was surprised by how much the Indians’ rivalry with Wingate had snowballed.
For the old heads, Lenoir-Rhyne is always going to be at the top of the list of Catawba’s enemies.
And there are always going to be some Catawba folks who would rather beat Carson-Newman than anyone because it was so hard for so long to beat the Eagles.
But Wingate is definitely moving up on the rivals’ list. Wingate is definitely part of the big three.
Batman had the Joker, the Penguin and the Riddler. For Catawba, in some order, it’s L-R, Carson-Newman and Wingate.
One thing some people hate about Wingate is the Bulldogs are proficient in just about every athletic endeavor. They give out an award for overall athletic excellence in the South Atlantic Conference — the Echols Award. Wingate has won it 12 straight times. Seriously, 12 straight. If the SAC started ice hockey or curling or archery tomorrow, Wingate would probably win the conference championship.
Wingate has gotten quite good at football under head coach Joe Reich, who is now in his 19th season. Reich is 122-79.
Catawba still leads the all-time series with Wingate, 20-15, and there was a time not so long ago when a Catawba-Wingate football matchup meant a pretty certain Catawba win.
From 1989-2003, Catawba beat the Bulldogs 13 out of 15.
But Wingate started trading wins with Catawba around 2004.
Since 2011, the Bulldogs have taken command of the series. They’ve won seven out of eight. Walker has a solid record at Catawba (40-30), but he’s 1-5 against the Bulldogs.
Walker said most of the games with Wingate have been good football games — and he’s right about that — but Catawba hasn’t had many favorable outcomes.
Catawba’s last triumph in the series was in 2016 at Wingate.
Catawba hasn’t beaten Wingate on Kirkland Field at Shuford Stadium since 2007, and that’s hard to accept. Most of the current Catawba Indians were 8 or 9 years old then.
Catawba will try again Saturday night to deal with the Bulldogs. Kickoff is set for 7:05 p.m. It’s the SAC opener for the Indians.
It’s a really important game for Catawba, which is expected by those outside the program to lose to the Bulldogs one more time.
Catawba is the underdog and should be because it has started 1-2 and didn’t play well last week at UNC Pembroke.
“We’ve played three good teams, but we didn’t play well at all at UNCP and I really didn’t see it coming,” Walker said. “We have to get better. We have to take care of the ball better.”
Meanwhile, 17th-ranked Wingate is 3-0 and already owns a hard-fought win against Carson-Newman.
There were some startling stats from Wingate’s 30-28 victory against Carson-Newman. Wingate focused its defense on stopping Carson-Newman’s running game and limited the Eagles to 2.1 yards per carry. Wingate also had six sacks.
Carson-Newman only got 10 passes off, but those 10 passing attempts resulted in mind-boggling numbers — 265 yards and four touchdowns.
Catawba isn’t as run-heavy as Carson-Newman, but it’s likely Wingate will employ a similar strategy. The Bulldogs will focus on stopping a Catawba running game that has been effective.
“They like to take something you’re good at away from you,” Walker said. “They’ll want to make our quarterback (that will likely be Kendall Davis) beat them.”
Wingate ran the ball for 5 yards per carry against Carson-Newman, so that’s Catawba’s major defensive concern. Wingate back Domineke McNeill piled up 176 net yards on 19 carries.
Wingate and Catawba, 69 miles apart, recruit some of the same players.
Catawba receiver Roman White, who had two big catches in the win at Winston-Salem State, is from Cuthbertson High in Waxhaw. That’s 30 minutes from Wingate.
“In high school, the Cuthbertson-Marvin Ridge rivalry was fierce because they were a few miles down the street from us,” White said. “Now I look at the Catawba-Wingate rivalry the same way.”
Besides catching passes, White, who paid dues on Catawba’s developmental team a year ago, has become a key special-teams guy. He’s on three of Catawba’s special teams.
“He runs good routes, he has a willingness to block, and he’s someone who is reliable on special teams,” Walker said. “He’s a guy who works hard and enjoys practice, so it’ s not a big surprise to us that he’s making key catches.”
White is a junior now, but he doesn’t regret this time on the “Devo” squad. He embraces it.
“Going up against our starting defensive guys every day made me a better player,” White said. “That prepared me for what I’m doing now.”
Catawba will need everyone to have White’s mentality if it’s going to upset Wingate.
Stranger things have happened.
“It’s been a struggle for us so far,” White said. “But beating Wingate — that would mean a lot.”
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