College football: Catawba on the road again vs. Lions

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 21, 2021

By Mike London

SALISBURY —Five years ago, as a high school player in Asheville, CJ Thompson set the NCHSAA record with 372 receiving yards in one game.

That’s a decent season in one night, so Thompson, who now catches passes for Mars Hill College, is someone the Catawba Indians have to be concerned about this Saturday. Catawba will make the trip to the mountains for a 1 p.m. contest against the Lions.

Thompson racked up conference player of the year accolades in high school, but Mars Hill still was able to recruit him because of his modest size.  He’s 5-foot-9, 165 pounds.

But Thompson’s quickness and elusiveness make him extra-dangerous. He leads the South Atlantic Conference in receiving yards per game (93.6) and receiving yards per catch (17.7).

Jimmy Urzea is the QB who gets Thompson the ball in space. He’s thrown for 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns. Mars Hill definitely is a passing team.

The Indians (4-1, 1-1) are 7-point underdogs, according to the Massey Ratings, and this is a critical game for both teams. The seasons of the Lions and Indians will spin one way or the other based on what happens. With a second straight road loss, Catawba, which wasn’t able to play for two weeks, is most likely cooked as far as being a serious factor in the SAC race. But if the Indians win, there are still all sorts of positive possibilities.

Mars Hill (5-2, 3-1) lost to Lenoir-Rhyne, but it owns a nice overtime win against Newberry, as well as SAC victories against UVA-Wise and Limestone, two teams that are sinking in the standings. The Lions finish the regular season with struggling Carson-Newman, Tusculum and Wingate, and if they have their way, that game with Wingate could be for the SAC title.

Catawba is coming off a 14-7 loss at Newberry. The defense acquitted itself well enough, but the Indians didn’t have a great day on special teams and endured an offensive nightmare. For the first time this season they couldn’t run the ball, and they weren’t the first team to find out that when you can’t run it, it can get awfully hard to throw it.

Catawba also will have to be wary of Tristan Rankin, a Mars Hill defensive back from Hickory. He’s the reigning SAC Defensive Player of the Week. He tied the school record with three interceptions in the 32-3 mauling of Limestone.

Another Mars Hill defensive player has local ties. The Lions successfully recruited former Salisbury High linebacker Jabril Norman. He made his college debut in the short spring season and has 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks this fall.

Some amazing things have occurred in this series, including seven sacks by Catawba’s Ron Ellington against the Lions in 2007.

Catawba leads the all-time series 32-26, but the Lions have won the last two. They smacked around Catawba 55-28 in 2019.

WSAT will broadcast the contest.