College football: Next man up for battered Indians

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 27, 2022

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Football is a physical sport, injuries are part of it, and “next man up” has become a very important part of coach-speak.

You hear “next man up” from coaches about as often as you hear they’re “taking them one game at a time.”

Sometimes “next man up” works out. Down to their third quarterback last Sunday, the Carolina Panthers rallied around PJ Walker, won a ballgame and might have found something moving forward.

Division II is a different world than the NFL, however. In the NFL, talent is standing around, just waiting for on opportunity to present itself.

But depth is a serious issue at a Division II program such as Catawba. An injury for the Indians can mean the drop-off from scholarship athlete to walk-on. It can mean the drop-off from experienced to inexperienced. It can mean the drop-off from redshirt sophomore to true freshman. It can mean the drop-off from really good to pretty good.

Catawba (1-7, 0-6) has taken a pounding not only from the South Atlantic Conference, but from injuries. Sure, it’s “next man up,” but it’s hard to replace guys like Christian Campbell and Mike Jones on the defensive side of the ball.

Campbell was SAC Player of the Week for his efforts in Catawba’s win at Livingstone on opening day. He went down very early in Game 2.

Jones was the pass rush. He went down.

Both starting safeties went down. There’s a reason they were starters. The Indians soldier on, and no one is making excuses, but injuries have been a serious factor in what has been a brutal season.

As Catawba began preparations for this season, it had three quarterbacks it felt good about — two transfers from Division I schools and one very talented true freshman.

That true freshman, Kamron Hill, was good in the first half against Limestone on homecoming Saturday, but when he was knocked out of the game, Catawba had no more healthy quarterbacks.

Kujuan Pryor, a running back that the Indians have turned into a receiver, was “next man up.” He took the snaps. He’s the Indians’ best athlete and he actually completed five passes for 71 yards, but the second half was mostly a train-wreck. Down 21-16 at the break, Catawba got buried 48-23 by Limestone.

Whether or not the Indians will have a healthy QB this Saturday remains to be seen. If not, Pryor will do his best.

After a series of 6 p.m. kickoffs, Catawba will get back to playing afternoon football on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. in Wilson at  N.C. Electric Supply Company Field at Truist Stadium.

The opponent will be the Barton Bulldogs. Barton (2-5, 1-4) is struggling mightily, but Barton is still a 15-point favorite over the Indians, according to the Massey Ratings. Barton’s lone SAC win came early against UVa Wise, so that tells you where Catawba is ranked right now.

Catawba head coach Curtis Walker and Barton head coach Chip Hester go way back. They were part of the great staffs Davie Bennett put together at Catawba in the glory days of 1999-2001.

Hester became Catawba’s head coach in 2002 when Bennett left to start the program at Coastal Carolina. Hester was successful as head coach — 70-49 in 11 seasons with eight winning seasons. He guided a great team in 2007 and received conference and region coach of the year honors. He is second all-time in coaching wins for the program, behind only Gordon Kirkland. He was let go after a 4-7 season in 2012.

Walker followed Hester as head coach of the Indians, provided the energy that got things rolling again and produced nine-win seasons in 2015 and 2017. He was SAC Coach of the Year in 2015 when the Indians won the SAC championship. A downturn began in 2018, COVID hit the program very hard, and the Indians haven’t been able to stop a severe slide.

With this year’s 0-6 piling on hard, Catawba now has lost 24 of its last 26 SAC games.

After some years as an assistant coach and coordinator at N.C. A&T, Hester was named as the head coach to get Barton’s program started from the ground up. The Bulldogs began play in the 2020 season shortened by COVID. In 2021, Barton played at Catawba, and the Indians took a bruising and emotional 17-10 victory. Barton still went 6-5 in 2021, beating among others, Wingate and Carson-Newman.

Barton is run-heavy, with a passing attack that ranks 157th out of 163 Division II teams.

When the Indians beat Barton in 2021, they did so despite 35 carries for 177 yards by Barton’s standout back Jordan Terrell. Terrell is still toting the rock for Barton and Hester would like for him to carry the ball 35 more times against the Indians this Saturday. That’s his normal workload when things are going well for Barton. He’s third in the SAC in rushing.

Barton has gotten smashed the last two weeks by Lenoir-Rhyne and Wingate because they were able to start fast and build large halftime leads. They forced Barton to throw it and essentially took Terrell out of the game. He had only 17 carries against both L-R and Wingate.

Wingate held Barton to a meager 92 yards of offense last week on its way to a 28-3 victory.

An awful lot of this game comes down to whether the Indians can deal with Terrell. The bad news is Catawba’s defense ranks 148th in Division II  in rushing yards allowed.

Hester’s older daughter, Morgan, played volleyball for Catawba and is now an assistant coach with the program.

Coach Hester also made frequent trips back to Rowan County to watch his younger daughter, Tori, play volleyball for West Rowan. She’s now a standout at Troy University.

He still has ties to area coaches and recruits in Rowan County.

Barton’s roster includes receiver Gabe Hinceman (East Rowan), running back Malcolm Wilson (North Rowan), offensive lineman Edwin Fuentes-Barrios (West Rowan) and defensive back Gabe Pozyck (South Rowan).

Being Terrell’s backup is a thankless job, but Wilson usually gets some carries and scored a touchdown against Newberry.

WSAT will broadcast the action.