Football

Catawba collapses at IUP

By Steve Hanf, Salisbury Post

INDIANA, Pa. -- Chip Hester kneeled on the sideline, one hand holding his head, the other rubbing his face.<br />
On the other side of the field, players from Indiana University also collapsed to the turf, but with entirely different emotions.<br /><br />
Hester's first loss as head coach of Catawba College could easily be the team's most stunning, heart-breaking defeat in years. After holding a 26-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, the Indians watched Indiana of Pennsylvania reel off 20 unanswered points in the quarter for a 27-26 victory.<br /><br />
&quot;You get frustrated because you've got some good things going, then you get some mental mistakes and go three-and-out and that momentum starts slipping away to the other sideline,&quot; Hester said. &quot;We let it get away from us.&quot;<br />
Both halves of that analysis serve as huge understatements for how Saturday night's game at George P. Miller Stadium unfolded. In the first half, Catawba could do nothing wrong as it forced four turnovers and scored 26 points off those miscues. That dominating show came around a 30-minute lightning delay that failed to steal the Tribe's thunder.<br /><br />The second break, though, produced a pair of completely different teams in the matchup of Division II powers. Catawba, ranked eighth in the American Football Coaches Association poll, managed just six first downs in the final 30 minutes.<br /><br />Two of the Tribe's second-half drives stalled inside the Indiana 40. Four drives were of the three-and-out variety.

&quot;They switched up their gameplan, slowed us down,&quot; said tailback Rodney Wallace, who rushed for 91 yards in the first half but finished at just 115. &quot;We were getting 3 or 4 yards and that was it. We were being a little bit too conservative, but we weren't real concerned. We figured we could punt the ball and they ain't going to score.&quot;

<br /><br />But really, you couldn't call the play-calling conservative. Catawba simply went with what worked in the first half, when the offensive line of Cole Beane, Daniel Lynch, Bucky Yates, Demetrus Hopper and Joe Nixon opened huge holes. In the first half, Catawba ran 10 first-down plays that netted 5 yards or better.

In the second half, it happened just five times.

&quot;The thing that you look at from the first half, I think we dominated the line of scrimmage,&quot; Hester said. &quot;That's what was good to us. That was working. You've got to credit IUP for stopping what we were doing to them.&quot;

Indiana, 2-1 and ranked 18th in the nation, suddenly dominated from both sides of the line, getting a little help from the Catawba kicking game.

The score remained 26-7 entering the fourth quarter. Catawba (1-1) even managed its best drive of the half before stalling with a fourth-and-6 from the IUP 27-yard line with 11 minutes remaining in the game.

Instead of trying a 44-yard field goal, punter Danny Jenkins trotted out, trying to pin Indiana deep. Instead, an 11-yard effort put the ball on the 17, and four plays later, QB Brian Eyerman hit LeRon McCoy on a 31-yard strike to cut the gap to 26-13.

The two-point conversion failed, but the momentum had changed.

&quot;We don't have a guy we feel good about making a long field goal,&quot; Hester said of his two young kickers trying to replace graduated record-setting Matt Gross. &quot;We practice it during the week and we can't get that done right now. We've got some guys doing a great job and they're consistent inside the 25, but outside we don't have a real good shot.&quot;

Catawba held the ball for 63 seconds on its next possession before punting. This time, a five-play drive chewed up the yards in rapid fire, with Eyerman hitting Carmelo Ocasio from 25 yards out to make it 26-20 with 7:09 still showing.

Another three-and-out, this one lasting 1:50, gave IUP the ball on its own 42-yard line. The home-standing Indians shook off a holding call on first down, got within striking distance and took the lead on Eyerman's 36-yard strike behind the corner and out of reach of the fast-approaching safety.

The extra point was good, and Catawba had just 1:37 left to rally.

&quot;They've got three wideouts that ought to be playing Division I football,&quot; Hester said. &quot;It's tough to guard those guys. They got us underneath a little bit, then got us to bite up and got it over our head a couple time.&quot;

All told, Eyerman completed 17 of 24 attempts for 224 yards and a school record-tying four TDs. Five different receivers had two or more catches.

The Tribe, on its last-ditch drive, got a first down when Corey Ready took a screen pass from Samples, broke a few tackles and picked up 20 yards to the 46. On first down, with a minute showing on the clock, Samples threw long for O.J. Lennon in single coverage over the middle, but the pass fell incomplete after some jostling between the racing receiver anddefensive back.

On second down, Nick Means -- who remains short of the all-time school receiving record despite needing just 18 yards last night -- was crushed on a short attempt at midfield that fell incomplete. Samples' next pass headed for Lennon, again open down the middle, but it sailed long.

After using a timeout, and with 41 seconds left to go, Samples saw the corner back up tight on Means at the line of scrimmage. Means went long down the sideline, Samples lofted a pass and Means made the catch -- but was a foot out of bounds.

&quot;Heck, you try to get your best players to try to make plays,&quot; Hester said of the last play. &quot;We were close to having that a big, big play.&quot;

Indiana's players dropped to celebrate on the spot at the 18, where Catawba certainly would've been close enough to try a go-ahead field goal. Catawba, crushed, crashed back onto its bench waiting for the final two kneel-downs.

&quot;We're disappointed, but we know we could've beaten them,&quot; Wallace said. &quot;They're nationally ranked, we're going to keep our heads up. We've been through trials and tribulations before.&quot;

***

Contact Steve Hanf at 704-797-4256 or shanf@salisburypost.com.

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