November 11, 2001
Young Tribe team won’t share SAC title after 31-14 rompBy Mike London, The Salisbury Post Fortunately for Catawba College, its football team is so young it hasn’t even learned how to share yet. Saturday afternoon, in the final regular-season game at Shuford Stadium, the greedy Indians refused to give up a piece of their second straight South Atlantic Conference title. Young Catawba whipped old rival Lenoir-Rhyne 31-14 to finish alone at the top in the SAC at 6-1.“You won the conference outright,” Catawba coach David Bennett told his cheering troops, who finished a game ahead of Tusculum, Presbyterian and Carson-Newman. Catawba earned the right to host a Division II first-round playoff game next Saturday, but Bennett isn’t kidding when he says this year’s team is a bunch of kids. Quarterback Luke Samples, who tossed for 256 yards and a touchdown, is a redshirt freshman. Record-setting true freshman running back Rodney Wallace bruised for 87 yards and two TDs. And there’s plenty of peach-fuzz on both lndian lines. “Three freshman and two sophomores on that OL,” said Bennett. “Three freshman on the DL.” Of course, Catawba had something old to go with the new. Seniors came through. Linebacker Shawn McBride made a dozen tackles. Matt Gross kicked a field goal and four extra points. Arnold Gaither contributed a clutch catch. And linebacker Darris Morris made nine tackles and was part of the game’s pivotal play. Lenoir-Rhyne was threatening to break on top when quarterback Brett Meunier took off midway through the first quarter. Khanis Hubbard and Morris chased Meunier toward the Catawba sideline and Morris delivered a hit at the Tribe 15 that sent Meunier sprawling nearly to the track. No flag was thrown and Morris insisted there shouldn’t have been. “I dropped back in pass coverage, saw the QB running and came screaming up,” said Morris. “I hit him right on the sideline. I thought it was a clean hit. I hope he’s OK.” Meunier, however, was not OK. The junior, who had thrown for 2,169 yards prior to Saturday, was done with a knee injury, and L-R coach Bill Hart, who had lost his quarterback, not to mention 2 yards, was beside himself. Hart felt even worse moments later when Morris surged through to get a hand on a field goal try that ticked off the crossbar. “We had a block designed for (linebacker) Shawn Sanders,” said Morris. “But they blocked hard on Shawn and let me go in free.” Boosted by that close call, Catawba struck for seven. Samples zipped a pass to Nick Means, whose speed turned it into a 68-yard gain. That set up a 14-yard scoring burst by Wallace for the lead. L-R had a huge advantage in time of possession in the first half thanks to three Indian turnovers. But Catawba’s defense held in tough situations and the offense pushed the lead to 14-0 with an 87-yard drive. Samples finished it with a pass to senior tight end Mark Sintich. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Sintich nimbly danced around a DB to reach the end zone. The Bears (3-7, 2-5) converted an interception into a TD to close to 14-7 with 55 seconds left in the half and appeared to have taken the momentum. But rather than running out the clock, Bennett gave his offensive coaches the green light to go for points. That decision looked good when Samples hit Gaither for a 40-yard gain. Then Samples made a big run that became bigger when a flag was thrown for a late hit when he was bumped on the sideline. Next came a pass that Preston Lewis appeared to haul in for a touchdown, but officials ruled the pass incomplete when Lewis lost possession when he was hit a full stride after he crossed the goal line. “I know Preston took two steps with that ball,” said an amazed Samples. “It shoulda been a touchdown. I know Preston and the coaches feel the same way.” “The moral of that story?” asked Bennett. “Hold on to that ball until you hand it to the official. Don’t leave any doubt.” Catawba did salvage a Gross field goal with four seconds remaining in the half to go ahead 17-7 and restore the lead to two scores. “I thought scoring then was the key to the game,” said Catawba receivers coach Chip Hester. “We got the momentum back and it carried over to the second half.” It did indeed. Catawba seized the game by the throat on its first second-half possession when it rolled 92 yards to wipe out half the third-quarter clock and push the lead to 24-7. L-R scored with 5:21 left in the game, but the victory cigar was lit by Piotr Kalinowski, who came up with a sack, and Jemonte Battle, who poked away a desperation fourth-down pass. Those plays handed the ball to the Indians’ offense at the L-R 15. One unsportsmanlike penalty and one handoff to Wallace later, the Indians had a TD. “We’ve made mistakes, played some real ugly ballgames this season,” sighed Bennett. “But give these kids credit. They usually found a way to win.” And now they’ll find their way back to Shuford for one more game. ######
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