College football: Catawba on the road for battle of 1-8 teams
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The last time Catawba walked onto a football field with a 1-8 record, 25 years ago, the Indians prevailed on the road at Wingate, 44-43, in overtime.
Catawba hopes to provide similar excitement on Saturday afternoon.
Catawba, which will be in action 220 miles from home, plays at University of Virginia’s College at Wise. The Indians will take on the Cavaliers, newcomers to the South Atlantic Conference, at noon. Known as UVa-Wise, the Cavaliers started a transition from NAIA to Division II in 2012 and completed it in 2015.
The game will be played at 3,900-seat Richmond Stadium on AstroTurf, although Richmond Stadium probably won’t be filled to capacity. It’s been a rough introduction to SAC football for UVa-Wise, 1-8 overall and 0-7 in the SAC. The Cavaliers have come close a few times to notching their first SAC win, losing to Mars Hill, 21-14, and to Tusculum, 21-19. Both of those close losses were at home. This is UVa’s last chance to get a SAC win, as it draws the curtain on this season next week with a non-conference matchup at UNC Pembroke.
UVa-Wise won handily against Chowan on opening day, but it’s now lost eight straight.
Catawba (1-8, 0-6 SAC) won against Winston-Salem State on Sept. 14 to get even at 1-1, but it has lost seven straight since then. The last time Catawba could say it almost won was against Wingate on Sept. 28. It’s been tough sledding since then with SAC losses by 28, 45, 23, 27 and 18 points.
‘We’re kind of similar teams right now, with UVa-Wise much the same as us with freshmen and sophomores all over the depth chart,” Catawba head coach Curtis Walker said. “Both teams are in a youth movement and trying to end losing streaks.”
When this season began, Catawba hoped to be compared to Lenoir-Rhyne, Wingate and Carson-Newman, rather than UVa-Wise, but everything has kind of come apart. Injuries have been at the root of most of Catawba’s struggles. The next-man-up Indians are down to their third guy at a lot of places, including quarterback.
“Guys have been pressed into roles that we were preparing them for, but now they have got to do it right now,” Walker said. “With the injuries we have, the young guys have to play. A lot of those guys, with a little experience, will be very good players. We played well enough to win Saturday most of the game.”
Injuries have introduced new faces. Marco Antonio Lopez, 19, was a fine high school athlete, starring in football, wrestling and track at 1A Starmount High in rural Boonville. He walked on at Catawba and red-shirted in 2018. He was expected to be a depth guy, probably a third-team guy, this season, but when another Catawba offensive lineman (Zach Mayo) went down on Saturday at Tusculum, Lopez was on the field. He played right guard.
He’s big enough (6-2, 295) and strong enough to be successful. Things were flying at him pretty fast, but he did fine.
“It was a good opportunity to show what I can do,” Lopez said. “Being from a small school, I wasn’t recruited by a lot of people.”
Catawba started with some fire at Tusculum and held Tusculum to a field goal after the Pioneers had first-and-goal at the 1.
Down 10-7 at the half, Catawba was in the best shape it’s been in, in many weeks, but turnovers piled up for the Indians in the second half, and so did Tusculum rushing yards. The bottom line was a 32-14 loss.
“It’s been tough,” said 18-year-old freshman receiver Dominic Burnam, who split two defenders over the middle and made his third TD catch against Tusculum. “But I thought last week we clicked more as a team and played more as a team. We can get a win this week.”
A beleaguered Catawba defense actually made a lot of plays at Tusculum, producing seven sacks and forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions by cornerback Cris Page.
Still, it’s been a mostly rocky season when Catawba doesn’t have the ball. Catawba’s defense ranks 161st out of 166 D-II teams in rushing yards allowed per game and 159th at preventing third-down conversions.
UVa-Wise has been a little better than Catawba defensively, but the Indians have been a little better offensively, and it’s possible No. 1 running back Demonte Good will be back in the lineup after going down with an injury in the Mars Hill game. It projects to be a dogfight, a one-score game, with two desperate teams fighting to avoid the SAC basement.
Catawba really needs this one. The Indians will be enormous underdogs when they take on Lenoir-Rhyne in their finale at home next week.
They Indians haven’t finished 2-9 since 1994, and they haven’t lost 10 games in a season — ever. The worst won/lost season in school history was 0-9-1 in 1983.
The Massey Ratings list UVa-Wise as a 3-point favorite, with a score projection of 24-21.