September 23, 2001
PC ‘Samples' new Tribe QBBy Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post
CLINTON, S.C. — The Discovery Channel should forget about shows on whales and sharks and dinosaurs and do a show on the Catawba football team.
There was so many discoveries Saturday during the Indians’ impressive 28-14 victory over 22nd-ranked Presbyterian the channel would need to make it a mini-series.
The Hose got a dose of the new Catawba Saturday:
* A maligned offensive line, which had its worst game of the season a week earlier at Wingate, bludgeoned the Presbyterian defense, opening enough holes for the young backfield to rush for a whopping 338 yards.
* That same backfield that didn’t have a go-to guy, now has one in true freshman Rodney Wallace, who bulldozed the Hose for 145 yards on 26 carries.
* And then, the newest of the new, quarterback Luke Samples, a redshirt freshman, gave not only Presbyterian, but the rest of the South Atlantic Conference, something to think about for the next four years.
Samples started in place of senior Scott Sensing and was the main reason Catawba held the ball for 23 of the 30 second half minutes.
“Wow!” exclaimed a pumped-up head coach David Bennett of Catawba’s youngsters.
That’s all he needed to say. Catawba proved Saturday that regardless of losing 16 starters from last season, the Indians still deserve to be among the nation’s elite. The sixth-ranked Indians won their 20th straight regular season SAC contest and improved to 4-0.
“I am so proud,” he said.
He should have been. After the teams struggled to a 7-7 tie by halftime, his diaper dandies grew up quickly.
Catawba took the second-half kickoff and marched 80 yards on 11 plays in five minutes.
Samples eventually faced a third-and-five from the Hose 10. While being belted, he lofted a perfect pass to Nick Means for a 14-7 lead.
“I didn’t see what happened,” said a sore Samples. “I was on the ground.”
Catawba got the ball back and Samples led another 11-play march, this one for 57 yards that knocked 5:31 off the clock, making it 20-7 on a short Wallace run.
Tony Hawkins did most of the damage on this drive, thanks to the offensive line, which refocused this week.
“You can have the best running backs in the world but if you don’t control the line of scrimmage, the back can’t do it on his own,” said Bennett.
Presbyterian pulled to within 20-14 as the third period ended but guess what? Samples led a 10-play, 73-yard drive that took up five more minutes to start the fourth.
This was his most impressive work. Facing a third-and-11 from his own 47, Samples, who threw for only 34 yards on a 4-of-14 day, drilled a 20-yard completion to Cedric Squirewell.
“He stepped up in the pocket and let Squirewell get open,” said an elated offensive coordinator Jamie Snider. “That was a big-time throw.”
Presbyterian coach Tommy Spangler agreed, saying, “Ithought (Samples)was poised and physical. He hurt us on some third downs. That crucial one — he threw a nice ball.”
An unlikely hero, Anthony Coulson, who had only two runs, burst up the middle 29 yards for a score. Arnold Gaither’s conversion catch made it a 14-point lead.
“We’re going to look at the film and be sick,” Spangler said of that drive.
With all of the hoopla over Samples, a big country boy from East Wilkes, and Wallace, a tank from Bamberg, S.C., the reliable defense came through too. Naturally.
Yes, it was scored on for the first time this season but with the game on the line and gunslinging All-American quarterback Todd Cunningham throwing every play out of a no-huddle, shotgun offense, the Indians made the big plays in the waning moments.
With five minutes left, Cunningham had zipped the Blue Hose to the Catawba 4, where he faced a third-and goal. He threw incomplete but there was a clip. Bennett declined the penalty so instead of a third-and-goal from the 20, it was fourth-and goal from the 4.
People who don’t coach football were amazed. People who do coach football know Bennett and his defensive coordinator Curtis Walker, made the right call.
Walker explained that taking the penalty would give Cunningham two shots at the end zone and more room to operate.
On the fourth-down play, Cunningham couldn’t find a receiver and started for the left corner of the end zone. Cornerback Jamel Jackson was waiting on the goal line.
“I thought he’d toss it over my head,” Jackson said. “But being the superstar that he is, he thought he could get it in.”
He didn’t as Jackson crunched him to the ground on the half-yard line.
Jackson then ended all Hose hopes by intercepting Cunningham on Presbyterian’s final possession.
“Against a team like Catawba,” Spangler sighed, “you don’t have to play perfect, but you better play pretty darned good. We didn’t play pretty darned good. We played kinda average. They physically whipped us at times.”
Catawba has won 26 of its last 29 games, most of them coming on speed and big plays.
Saturday, it was something new.
NOTES: Presbyterian fell to 1-2. ... Samples was the second-leading rusher with 72 yards on 13 carries. ... Cunningham was 25-of-48 for 299 yards. ... Catawba returns home next week to face Newberry.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4256 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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