College football: Indians underdogs on the road at Newberry

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2021

By Mike London

SALISBURY — It goes without saying that Catawba’s football team has worked diligently on special teams this week.

Returning to action after two weeks of postponements, Catawba survived three special-teams touchdowns by Carson-Newman, including two 100-yard kickoff returns, and beat the Eagles 33-27.

It was a successful, if belated South Atlantic Conference opener for the Indians (4-0, 1-0).

Now Catawba heads to SAC opponent Newberry on Saturday for a 5 p.m. kickoff at Setzler Field.

While Catawba’s unbeaten record is creating excitement, things get more serious this week. Catawba will be an 11-point underdog against Newberry’s Wolves.

Catawba’s victories have come against Barton (3-3), Erkine (1-5), Winston-Salem State (1-4) and Carson-Newman (0-5). That’s a combined 5-17, and digging a little deeper, Erskine’s one win came against winless Virginia-Lynchburg, while Winston-Salem State’s lone victory came against winless Johnson C. Smith.

Catawba has definitely improved from the 1-10 woes of 2019, but the second half of the Indians’ schedule will be infinitely tougher than the first half.

Newberry (4-2, 3-1) lost in overtime at Mars Hill, but has beaten SAC opponents Lenoir-Rhyne, Tusculum and UVa-Wise. UVA-Wise was playing very well until it ran into Newberry last week. The Wolves led 23-0 at halftime and romped 37-14.

Newberry quarterback Dre Harris turned in a marvelous game against UVA-Wise, throwing for 264 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran for a score. His two TD passes to Bryson Woodruff (5 catches, 113 yards) put the Wolves on top early and they stayed there.

Defensively, Newberry put the brakes on UVA-Wise QB Lendon Redwine, who had been lighting it up. He was held to 157 passing yards.

Catawba can challenge Newberry’s defense with a powerful running game. The Indians rank 11th nationally in Division II with 239.5 rushing yards per game. That’s coming from QB Ken Avent III as well as backs Jyrea Martin and Daniel Parker. Catawba averages 5.15 yards per carry.

Avent has been handing off a lot, but he’s also been an efficient quarterback, completing 55 percent of his passes and throwing only one interception.

Defensively, Catawba has allowed only two rushing TDs and three passing TDs.

Probably the single most important reason Catawba is 4-0 is the turnover turnaround. Catawba is plus-6 on takeaways, which puts the Indians in the top 10 in Division II. Catawba has turned it over four times, while creating 10 turnovers on five fumbles and five interceptions.

Catawba’s Clayton Crile leads Division II in punting with an average of 49.47 yards.

Newberry leads the all-time series 26-21 including a 28-21 victory last spring.

Newberry is 13-9 at home against Catawba.