College football: Catawba closes season at Carson-Newman

Published 12:26 am Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Carson-Newman long snapper Andrew Bradshaw (Carson).


By Mike London

SALISBURY — Catawba heads to Carson-Newman on Saturday to wrap the 2023 football season, and while it appears to be a sleepy game between average teams it’s a significant game for reasons beyond the South Atlantic Conference standings.

For one thing, it’s Senior Day in Jefferson City, Tenn.,  for the proud Eagles, who once owned the SAC.  It will be the last football game that a lot of the Eagles will ever play. The same can be said for the players who will be in the Catawba locker room.

For another thing, Carl Torbush died on Sunday night at 72, and he was a man loved by a lot of people both in Rowan County, home of the Catawba Indians, and at Carson-Newman.

Torbush’s early years were spent in East Spencer, but his father worked for the railroad and earned a promotion to train master in the early 1960s that took him to Knoxville, Tenn., when Torbush was 11.

Young Torbush had a train pass that would take him virtually anywhere, so he could still ride the train back to Rowan County, stay with relatives and play Little League baseball, but his high school years were spent in Knoxville.

He was a star athlete there and walked on to Tennessee’s football program. After a year at Tennessee, he transferred to Carson-Newman, about 30 miles from Knoxville. In 1974, he was both an All-America football linebacker and an All-America baseball catcher for the Eagles.

The Carson-Newman Hall of Fame is just one of the halls of fame that Torbush is in. The biggest one is the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

Torbush’s long and distinguished college football coaching career peaked, depending on how you measure things, as national defensive coordinator of the year for Mack Brown’s North Carolina Tar Heels, as North Carolina’s head coach for three years (1998-2000), or as the man who got a football revival started from scratch at East Tennessee State at the end of his coaching run.

Between UNC and East Tennessee State’s one of  Torbush’s many  coaching stops was as an assistant at Carson-Newman, so it’s certainly possible they’ll recognize his life and career on Saturday.

Carson-Newman (5-5) is finishing strong and has won three of its last four. Catawba (4-6) has played a brutal schedule  of late and has dropped four of its last five. The lone win in that stretch was on homecoming against Barton.

Carson-Newman is a 7-point favorite for Saturday’s game, but it probably comes down to will.  How badly does Carson-Newman want to have a winning season? How badly does Catawba want to finish 5-6 instead of 4-7?

It would be a quality win for the Indians if they can get it and would provide momentum both for the recruiting trail and for next spring. It’s certainly a winnable game for the Indians. Carson-Newman is 2-3 at home.

Catawba is plus-3 as far as turnovers for the season, while Carson-Newman is minus-4.

Carson-Newman did beat one team that beat Catawba. Carson-Newman won a competitive game at Newberry, while Catawba lost a close one down there.

Statistically, Carson-Newman does not have guys that leap off the page, with the exception of linebacker Mekhi Brown, one of the SAC leaders with 8.5 sacks.

Carson-Newman QB Zane Whitson had a big game last week, but all the Eagles had a big game in a 52-7 romp against UVA Wise.

Tyler Curtis has eight rushing TDs for the Eagles, while Cade Meeks has six receiving TDs.

Carson-Newman has a player with local ties.

Former Carson Cougar Andrew Bradshaw, the All-SAC long snapper, is the son of a Catawba graduate (Trent Bradshaw) and the grandson of Catawba and Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Famer Reid Bradsjaw.  

The Catawba-Carson-Newman rivalry dates back to 1932.

The Eagles won in 2022 to bump their lead to 41-13-1 in the all-time series. Catawba has done better in recent times and has won four of the last 10.

Kickoff on Saturday is set for 1 p.m.