College football: Indians chilled by L-R, 49-3

Published 12:04 am Sunday, November 17, 2019

By Mike London

SALISBURY — A bitter wind swept through Shuford Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and so did the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears.

The 1,000th football game in Catawba history won’t be remembered with much fondness. It was competitive for a quarter, but the South Atlantic Conference champion Bears eventually slaughtered Catawba, 49-3.

For diehard Catawba fans, seeing the unblemished Bears (11-0, 8-0) receive the trophy for their second straight league title, bouncing and hugging and posing for photos in front of Goodman Gym, was a scene right out of a horror movie.

“They’re good,” Catawba head coach Curtis Walker said. “They can make a playoff run.”

For Catawba, the only good thing about its injury-shredded 100th season of football is that it’s over. Catawba dropped its last nine games to finish 1-10 and 0-8, rock bottom in the SAC. Catawba lost 10 times in a season for the first time ever, but at least now, the Indians can start over. They can heal and they can recruit. They can reboot to 0-0.

“All season, it was like there was voodoo in the air with so many guys getting hurt,” Catawba linebacker Jeremiah Ferguson said. “But we’ll be back.”

There were no special-teams disasters, but Catawba got crushed in just about every other way on Saturday.

L-R was 12-for-14 on third-down conversions and basically was only stopped twice. The Bears punted once. The other stop came when Catawba freshman Jeremy Harvey intercepted a pass by the Bears’ backup QB.

L-R, one of the best in Division II at both running the ball and stopping the run, out-rushed Catawba 300 yards to 44. L-R had 24 first downs to Catawba’s 8, ran 70 plays to Catawba’s 47.

“We had one offensive line starter healthy, so we knew it was going to be hard to root their guys out and try to run the ball on the interior,” Walker said. “We tried to find some weaknesses outside.”

Catawba’s receivers ran the ball almost as much as Catawba’s backs, a corps that has been drained by injuries.

L-R scored seven TDs. They were by seven different players. It was almost like they were taking turns.

“They’re disciplined, that’s their thing,” said Catawba receiver Gavin Rose, who was cleared to play Saturday morning after suffering a bruised lung and rib and was able to compete in his final game. “I don’t think Lenoir-Rhyne is any faster or bigger or more athletic than other teams in our league, but their discipline sets them apart.”

L-R scored on its first possession, pounding 73 yards out of its Wing-T offense for a 7-0 lead.

Catawba fought back. Freshman Dominic Burnam turned a short flip by freshman QB Kaylon Wade into a 50-yard gain with an impressive sprint. That led to Clayton Crile’s 39-yard field goal that made it a 7-3 game with 2:30 left in the first quarter.

Catawba’s defense forced Lenoir-Rhyne’s only punt on the Bears’ next possession. Senior linebacker L.J. Melvin nearly had a third-and-long interception when a pass wildly ricocheted off a helmet and struck him in the hands, but he couldn’t hang on.

“We did well early, made a few plays,” Walker said. “We scored. We got a stop. We had a chance.”

The turning point came on a remarkable, lunging interception by L-R’s Javoris Smith on the first snap of the second quarter. That got the Bears rolling.

They cashed in for a touchdown following that pick. They stopped Catawba. The visitors drove and scored again, and it was 21-3.

The last punch the Bears needed to land came with 4:40 left in the first half. After two decent runs by Ladarius Parker, Catawba was looking at third-and-4 at the Catawba 41. Wade dropped back to throw. He never knew what hit him. He got leveled by L-R  senior linebacker Clayton Horn, a Mount Pleasant High product who is a close friend of injured Catawba offensive lineman Zach Mayo.

“Our other linebacker opened that play up for me,” Horn said. “I saw a real big gap, came through it, and I knew I was going to have a clean shot on the quarterback. I had a perfect angle to hit him and the ball popped loose.”

The Bears recovered the fumble caused by Horn’s punishing sack at the Catawba 31, capitalized with a short-field touchdown, and led 28-3. It was all downhill for the Indians from there.

“We studied film of Catawba and saw they were using a lot of motion and probably would run a lot of jet sweeps,” Horn said. “We made an adjustment to that and we were ready for it. We’ve had a really good year as a defense, bringing it every day, practice or games, always working to get better. We try to be the more physical team every game. We try to play with violence. There was a lot at stake for us today. We wanted 11-0, and we did it.”

L-R didn’t do anything fancy in the second half, but the Bears were efficient. They tacked on three more TDs, while shutting down the depleted Indians, who are down to their third or fourth guy at quite a few spots.

“I can’t take anything away from L-R and I respect them,” Ferguson said. “That’s a good team. Their offense is hard to stop, and on defense, everyone is always where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there.”


NOTES: Dorrien Bagley, a freshman DB, made nine tackles for Catawba. … Walker expressed gratitude to a senior class that went 9-2 two years ago. “We lose a lot of great people who have meant so much to the program,” he said. “They’ll always be a part of Catawba.” … The most talented of those seniors, cornerback Cris Page, was part of an amazingly long injury list for the Indians. Melvin, an affable and dependable linebacker, also will be sorely missed. “When I transferred to Catawba, he was the guy who showed me the ropes,” Ferguson said. “He’s been the voice of our defense.” … Catawba’s new Hall of Fame class, including defensive line coach Radell Lockhart, was introduced to the crowd at halftime.