Football

Indian D' dominates in 12-0 victory over Wingate

By Mike London, The Salisbury Post

WINGATE — In the first two weeks of this football season, Catawba scored points by the ton.

In Saturday’s 12-0 struggle past rival Wingate, the Indians had to settle for scoring them by the Gross.

Senior place-kicker Matt Gross accounted for half the Tribe’s points with a pair of clutch, against-the-wind, first-half field goals as sixth-ranked Catawba passed its first real test of the season.It was mostly good news for the Indians (3-0 overall). They won in front of a boisterous road crowd, won their South Atlantic Conference opener and won on a day when a brisk wind made every pass longer than 10 yards a crap-shoot and every punt an adventure.

Nothing came easily. Tribe coach David Bennett had promised all week Belk Stadium would be a nest of hornets, and he was proven to be clairvoyant. Fortunately, Bennett brought along just the right insect repellent for his visit to Union County — a dynamic defensive unit that has still not allowed a point.

“We had us a little scare today, because the offense started slow,” said Indian linebacker Shawn McBride, whose fierce afternoon earned him a game ball. “But we made some stands and kept Wingate off the board. We got that goose egg. That’s our goal every game.”

Catawba’s defense spent most of the first half with its back to a cliff, fighting an uphill field position battle. Wingate actually started three first-half possessions in Catawba territory, but was turned away each time like movie-goers trying to get into a sold-out theatre.

The Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1) started at the Tribe 44 after a fumble by Catawba QB Scott Sensing, but couldn’t move a solitary inch before punting.

They got the ball at the Indian 43 after a short Danny Jenkins punt, but settled for a 43-yard field-goal attempt that came up just short. It hit the crossbar and bounded away.

A drive that started at the Indian 44 ended abruptly at the 32 when McBride broke through to force an errant pass. McBride’s mayhem triggered another unsuccessful field-goal try.

“Our defensive execution was great,” said new coordinator Curtis Walker. “What we wanted do was make their quarterbacks throw it quick, before they wanted to. That’s exactly what we did.”

“Wingate played hard, played with great intensity,” said Shawn Sanders. “But we weren’t just going to sit back and let them take it to us. Our style is to attack, so we attacked.”

All day long. McBride, Sanders and fellow destructive linebackers Todd McComb and Darris Morris chased Wingate QBs like relentless hunting dogs pursuing quail. Meanwhile, Catawba’s DBs blanketed receivers. Tribe big men Reggie Tucker, Richard Scott, Khanis Hubbard, David Huey and James McDowell — who bring nearly 1,500 hostile pounds to the fray —stuffed the Wingate ground game without mercy.

Catawba’s defensive work was numbing. Wingate managed a grand total of six first downs and didn’t have a rushing play longer than six yards. Fifty Bulldog plays netted a pitiful average of 1.8 yards.

“I’ve just come down here from Division I (Buffalo University), so it’s still hard for me to tell,” said Wingate coach Joe Reich, “but that Catawba defense is something. I certainly hope I don’t see a better one this year.”

Yet, Wingate stayed close thanks to punter Richard Straup, who averaged 44.9 yards on eight punts, and a conservative attack that didn’t turn the ball over against a Catawba “D” leading the world in turnover margin.

And then there was a Wingate defensive front that consistently outquicked the Indians’ massive O-line. Catawba averaged less than 3 yards per rush and couldn’t break a tackle, much less a big play.

“We did not get solid play today from our offensive line,” sighed Bennett. “Our offense sputtered. It was like we’d put diesel fuel in a regular engine.”

It was scoreless until Catawba finally turned field position around midway through the second quarter. Jenkins got off a line-drive punt that took a crazy carom off the pads of Bulldog return man Derrick Bryant. By the time Bryant retrieved the ball, he was snowed under on the Wingate 1.

Scott, McDowell and Sanders wrecked the next three plays and Straup had to punt from his end zone. The Bulldogs had to line up tight to protect the punter, leaving no one free to cover downfield. Cedric Squirewell took advantage. He fielded the kick at the Wingate 40 and lugged it back to the 24 to set up a 36-yard field goal by Gross.

“With the wind, that one was a little tricky,” said Gross. “I didn’t think I hit it, but then I looked up and it was headed out there to the flagpole.”

Good execution in its hurry-up offense netted the Tribe a second field goal just before intermission. Sensing had his best moments in that drive, twice hitting Arnold Gaither over the middle, once carrying for a big first down himself.

Catawba fans lived on pins and needles until Means broke free down the sideline late in the third quarter. Sensing’s pass to him floated like a child’s balloon in the stiff breeze, but Means adjusted and made a leaping catch. When Wingate DB Bryant fell down, Means had an open path to the end zone.

“With the wind the way it was, Nick made just a wonderful football play,” said Bennett, animatedly re-enacting the grab.

A two-point conversion try failed, but Catawba led 12-0.

Gross’ ensuing kickoff provided Wingate’s play of the day. His boot was low and Erie Williams fielded it on the gallop, hit the far sideline and saw daylight. The last man to beat was Gross, who nudged Williams out of bounds with an odd-looking tackle that was part martial arts, part Greco-Roman wrestling.

“I got him down, but maybe I ought to work on the tackling dummies this week,” laughed Gross. “I mean, I hit the ground a lot harder than I hit him. I guess I was just mad that I had messed up the kickoff and almost negated our touchdown.”

But that was Catawba’s last mess-up. Wingate penetrated as far as the Indian 3 early in the fourth quarter, but was halted by two ill-timed penalties and a trio of incompletions.

“They got to the 4 and I’m thinking, ‘Uh oh, this ballgame is on now,’” said Bennett. “But then our defense did it again.”

The Indians’ offense finished the game with relish, ripping the last 6:44 off the clock on a methodical march that began at the Tribe 17 and ended with Samples taking a knee at the Wingate 31. On that final drive, Catawba abandoned its finesse game and opted for sheer power, banging straight ahead at Wingate’s small line, knocking minutes off the clock and exhausting Reich’s timeouts.

“Maybe we weren’t as good as we expected to be today,” summed up McBride. “But we stuck it out. And, you know, if the other team doesn’t score, there’s no way they can beat us.”

***

NOTES:Next for the Indians is Presbyterian, Bennett’s alma mater. ... Wingate bore zero resemblance to the woeful bunch Catawba dismantled 53-6 last season. “When I got here everybody said I was getting bad kids with terrible attitudes,” said Reich. “I haven’t seen any of that. They’ve played very hard for me.”

***

Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com .

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