College football: Hopeful homecoming for Catawba

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 20, 2022


By Mike London

SALISBURY — Catawba’s football team takes a six-game losing streak into Saturday’s 6 p.m. homecoming game against South Atlantic Conference opponent Limestone.

There’s no way to sugarcoat that. It’s undeniably been a rough stretch for a proud program. Five of those losses have come in the SAC.

Since a stirring November home victory over Lenoir-Rhyne that lifted head coach Curtis Walker and the Indians to a 9-2 final record in 2017, it’s been a downhill ride.

That awesome triumph over the Bears might have been a springboard to even bigger and better things and Catawba football history might have unfolded differently, but we’ll never know.

Even at 9-2, Catawba didn’t get in the playoffs. It’s been difficult to get the momentum back. Catawba never has.

The Indians are 11-31 since that 2017 season-capper if you count last season’s two COVID forfeits. They are 11-29 if you don’t.

There was a slide to 4-7 in 2018, and then a free fall to 1-10 in 2019. Then COVID chewed into the program. Veterans transferred. Now, after too many road games and a rookie-filled roster, the Indians are 1-6, and that may turn into another 1-10.

But maybe it won’t.

The good news is Catawba’s game last week offered the first hope that fans have glimpsed since early September.  When you get out-rushed 284 yards to 89, as Catawba was, it’s very hard to win, but Catawba  came back from 27-7 down and made things exciting against a Newberry team that is 6-1.  The final was 34-27.

This outing left people with a much different feeling than the Mars Hill game, the Tusculum game, the Wingate game.

True freshman Kamron Hill was Catawba’s quarterback against Newberry. He and redshirt freshman Ridge Jacobs have done all the quarterbacking. Most of their numbers are similar except Hill has thrown six touchdown passes, with three interceptions, while Jacobs has four TDs and six interceptions.

As young as he is, Hill looked like a SAC starting quarterback is supposed to look last week — 20-for-27 for 296 yards. He threw three TD passes and one pick. That’s something he can build on, something the team can build on. Jaden Lockhart had three catches for 120 yards.

The season had been a spinning, broken record for Catawba before Saturday.

It went like this: Catawba’s defense plays tough, but offense can’t move the ball or turns it over, and defense eventually breaks down.

But last Saturday, the Indians made first downs, even converted 53 percent of their third downs into first downs. A reasonably rested defense got some stops.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.  That’s a start.

Limestone is a seven-point favorite to spoil homecoming on Kirkland Field at Shuford Stadium.

The Saints are a good team (4-3, 3-2). The SAC seems to be filled with good teams this year.

Limestone has been in overtime games twice in the SAC. The Saints pulled one out against Carson-Newman, but they lost to Wingate last Saturday after leading 21-0 with 12 minutes left in regulation.

It’s impressive and scary that Limestone led 21-0  because Wingate manhandled Catawba.

But Limestone has to be somewhat down mentally after letting a win over Wingate get away.

Maybe Catawba is catching Limestone at a good time. Maybe.

Newberry running back Mario Anderson was named SAC Offensive Player of the Week for the epic damage he caused Catawba last Saturday.

The Indians will have to work hard not to get trampled in similar fashion by Limestone freshman Tre Stewart. He is already a star with 990 rushing yards on 112 carries and 11 touchdowns. He had 17 carries for 185 yards against Wingate, so he’ll probably tote it and tote it until Catawba proves it can contain him.

Limestone also throws it pretty efficiently. QB Dustin Noller didn’t have a big game against Wingate, but the Saints average 243 passing yards per game.

Limestone has stats that make it appear it plays wild and crazy games, but stats can lie. The Saints score 32.7 points per game, but that figure is skewed quite a bit by the 73 they rang up on St. Augustine’s.  They allow 30 points per game, but that number is inflated some by the 50s they allowed against Lenoir-Rhyne and Division I Gardner-Webb.

This could be a 28-21 or 28-24 ballgame, and maybe a homecoming crowd gets the Indians over the top.

The Indians need it.

Catawba leads the brief all-time series 3-2, but Limestone hammered the Indians 52-24 in the most recent meeting in Gaffney, S.C., in 2019.

WSAT radio will broadcast the game.