College football: Blue Bears, Indians seek road upsets
Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 15, 2022
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Catawba won handily at Livingstone on opening night, but according to the respected Massey Ratings system, Livingstone could win more games this season.
Catawba (1-1) currently projects for a 3-8 campaign, while Livingstone (1-1) projects for a 4-6 record.
Both programs, obviously, are hoping to do a lot better than that. Maybe they will.
As of today — and the numbers could look a whole lot different a week from now or two weeks from now — Catawba is favored only in its games with Emory & Henry and Carson-Newman.
As of today, Livingstone would be a favorite against Winston-Salem State (by 1), St. Augustine’s and Johnson C. Smith.
While Livingstone may have quite a bit to look forward to when it gets to face its CIAA Southern Division rivals late in the season, the Blue Bears appears to be headed for more growing pains throughout September and into early October.
Saturday will be the start of Livingstone’s scariest, three-week stretch of the season — at Virginia Union, Virginia State, at Bowie State.
Road games at nationally ranked Virginia Union and Bowie State look like impossible missions for the Blue Bears. Maybe they’ve got a little bit of a chance against Virginia State if they get some friendly bounces in the friendly confines of Alumni Memorial Stadium.
It’s the Virginia Union Panthers that the Blue Bears have to deal with first. Kickoff at Willie Lanier Field at Hovey Stadium in Richmond is set for 6 p.m.
Historic Hovey Field used to be the oldest venue in use in Division II, but as is the case with Livingstone, Virginia Union boasts a new turf field.
Virginia Union looked like a formidable foe when this season started, but now the VUU Panthers look like they are better than formidable. They are one of the hot teams in Division II.
Virginia Union’s 45-40 win at Valdosta State last Saturday was a monumental one, not only for Virginia Union, but for the CIAA and for HBCU football.
Valdosta State is one of the kingpins of the Gulf South Conference, a league which frequently produces the Division II national champion. Valdosta State was national runner-up in 2021, claimed the national title as recently as 2018 and was a consensus top-5 team entering this season.
But Valdosta State couldn’t handle Virginia Union’s offense, and Virginia Union prevailed in front of 4,000 unhappy fans at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
CIAA Offensive Back of the Week Jada Byers shredded Valdosta for 319 rushing yards and caught a touchdown pass.
Virginia Union also boasts the CIAA Defensive Back of the Week (Ephraim Moore) and the CIAA Specialist of the Week (kicker Brady Myers).
Livingstone also can talk about a CIAA Player of the Week — defensive lineman Christian Bostic. His fumble recovery at the Elizabeth City State 1-yard line was one of the critical plays in LC’s 19-0 victory in a fumble-plagued and weather-plagued rumble in Rocky Mount.
Livingstone mustered virtually no offense in that wet victory, so it’s a little surprising the Blue Bears are only 31-point underdogs at Virginia Union.
Virginia Union won the most recent meeting of the programs, 44-0 in 2019.
Livingstone’s most recent triumph over VUU came in 2012 in Richmond.
Catawba has a reasonable chance on Saturday at Mars Hill (0-1). Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Meares Stadium.
The Indians are 10-point underdogs, but 10 points can swing with a couple of turnovers, a couple of big plays.
Catawba has a guy (Kujuan Pryor) who can make big plays.
Mars Hill is still coached by Tim Clifton, who has been at it for 28 seasons now. It seems like more. It seems like he was coaching against Harvey Stratton. He’s 143-139 with the Lions.
Mars Hill is considered to be very good, mostly because the Lions were very good in 2021 when they took advantage of seven home games, went 8-3 and contended for the South Atlantic Conference championship.
As far as this year, the jury is still out.
There was a 44-7 loss to D-I East Tennessee State in Mars Hill’s opener, but it’s hard to tell much from that. The Lions threw it well enough, but they managed a meager 18 rushing yards.
The Lions didn’t play last Saturday, so they’re still mostly a mystery team. That also means they’ve had two weeks to get ready for Catawba.
Mars Hill thumped Catawba, 31-14, last October. Catawba hasn’t beaten the Lions since 2017 when the Indians rolled 37-13 in Salisbury.
The Lions have several players who are considered elite for D-II. That list includes tight end Ty Snelson, defensive back Tristan Rankin and linebacker Landon Honeycutt,
Honeycutt, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior who racks up a lot of tackles, played high school ball at Mount Pleasant, which means Mars Hill has done some profitable recruiting in Catawba’s backyard.
Jabril Norman, a junior linebacker from Salisbury, is a factor for Mars Hill and contributed three tackles in the opener.
In last week’s 34-21 loss at Shorter, Catawba struggled to run the ball (23 attempts, 58 yards) and couldn’t slow down Shorter, which rushed for 265 yards, put up 461 yards of offense and dominated time of possession.
Catawba got burned by Shorter’s tight ends and Mars Hill has an exceptional tight end, so that’s an area of concern.
There’s been a lot to work on this week as the Indians move closer to their first home game. That will be against Tusculum on Sept. 24.
Catawba announced new safety measures on Monday, including a clear bag policy. That’s becoming standard.
Catawba also announced paid parking for football, which is new. Prices will range from $10 to $20, depending on the lot.