Football

Catawba D' getting a stiff test against Grand Valley State

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post

In the first two rounds of the Division II playoffs, Catawba faced Central Arkansas and Valdosta State, teams who came in averaging over 500 yards a game.

The teams get better the deeper you go so here’s another stat for you. Undefeated Grand Valley State, which hosts Catawba Saturday at 1 p.m. in the national semifinals in Annadale, Michigan, is averaging 600 yards per game and 54.9 points per game.

Oh well, just another huge task for the Catawba defense, which has already knocked off the second and fifth ranked offenses in the country during this postseason.There are several other challenges awaiting the 11-1 Indians. A hostile crowd. Hostile weather. And a very good 12-0 football team.

Catawba coach David Bennett is expecting the temperatures to be in the low-30s for Saturday’s game to go with a raucous crowd.

“We’d rather play in the cold than 85-degree weather with sand gnats like we did in Valdosta (Ga.) last week,” Bennett said.

“We heard their students and the pep band are right behind our bench,” he added. “So it’s going to be loud.”

The biggest challenge for Catawba is trying to decide how to defend the Laker offense. In other words, who will play quarterback?

Bennett does know for sure it won’t be Curt Anes, the Harlon Hill Trophy candidate, who tore up a knee in the first round. It could be second-stringer Todd Wojciechowski, but he bruised his ribs in the second round. And it could be Ryan Brady, the third stringer, who has played wide receiver all season.

Grand Valley State coach Brian Kelly said earlier in the week that Brady would get the nod.

Whoever the quarterback is, he’ll have the duty of finding David Kircus, regarded as the finest receiver in Division II. The All-American grabbed three touchdowns last week against Saginaw State and has 31 this season.

“He broke a lot of Jerry Rice’s records,” said Bennett, who added it didn’t matter who quarterbacked. “They’ve got an outstanding team with an outstanding tradition.”

Want to compare numbers?

The total yards category, of course, is in Grand Valley’s favor as Catawba averages 365.

Grand Valley also leads in averages for passing (313-170), rushing (260-194) and points (54-34).

Defensively, the teams are pretty even. Grand Valley does lead in sacks 46-25. Catawba has the edge in pass defense (185 to 229), scoring defense (14 to 16) and total yards given up (280 to 307).

The game could boil down to special teams, where Catawba has a distinct advantage on paper.

Grand Valley has kicked just five field goals (in nine tries) while Matt Gross is one of the country’s best booters (15-of-23). Grand Valley averages just 32 yards per punt and is giving up an average of 10 yards per punt return.

Meanwhile, 16 of Catawba’s Danny Jenkins’ 58 punts have been downed inside the 20.

Both teams have the same number of all-conference players.

Anes was the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s player of the year while Kircus was the co-offensive player of the year. Catawba’s Shawn Sanders became the fifth straight Indian to win defensive player of the year in the South Atlantic Conference. Tailback Rodney Wallace was named offensive freshman of the year.

The coaches are even close when it comes to winning percentage. Bennett is 63-16 at Catawba in seven years while Kelly is 82-33-2 in 11 seasons.

The game looks like a complete tossup.

It’s Grand Valley’s Muhammad Ali-like offense against Catawba’s Joe Frazier-like defense.

In other words, Grand Valley’s offense should keep throwing punch after punch while Catawba’s defense will keep taking hit after hit and staying on its feet.

Just like a national semifinal bout of heavyweights should be.

***

NOTES: The winner gets a berth in the national title game Dec. 8 in Florence, Ala. That game will be nationally televised on ESPN. ... While Catawba beat Central Arkansas 35-34 and Valdosta State 37-34 in overtime, Grand Valley reached the semis with a 42-14 win over Bloomsburg and a 33-30 win over Saginaw State. ... In the other semifinal, Cal Davis (10-2) travels to Grand Forks to take on 12-1 North Dakota. ... Nick Means and Cedric Squirewell each have over 40 catches while Arnold Gaither has made the most of his 14 receptions. Four have gone for scores. ... Wideout O.J. Lennon has been a clutch receiver in the postseason. ... Means, a junior, is just 143 yards from breaking the school record in career receiving yardage. ... Wallace has 1,095 yards on the ground.

***

Assistant sports editor Mike London and photographer Joey Benton are in Michigan covering the national semifinals for the Post.

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