September 26, 2001
Luke can give you a lickBy Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post
It didn’t take long for Luke Samples to endear himself to Catawba College’s football fans.
He hit somebody.
You may wonder how that could entice the fans to stand and let out the loudest cheer of the afternoon. After all, that’s what football players do, isn’t it?They hit people.
But Luke Samples is a quarterback. And quarterbacks are usually the fragile ones, the ones the coaches tell to run out of bounds or slide down if a defender approaches.
Samples, a redshirt freshman, made his first collegiate start Saturday in Clinton, S.C. against 22nd-ranked Presbyterian and led Catawba to a 28-14 win. Included in his debut was a play that no one will ever forget. When he’s a senior, you can bet everyone will still be talking about it.
On the Indians’ second possession, Samples took off around end, heading for the Catawba sidelines.
He had the chance to slide or run away from an oncoming defender.
The defender was Presbyterian’s all-South Atlantic Conference Russell Rothar, a 5-foot-9, 209-pound linebacker.
Samples didn’t slide or run away because he is 6-foot-3, 210.
“They don’t expect quarterbacks to lower their shoulders,” he said with a grin. “But every now and then, it’s fun.”
Samples saw Rothar coming with a full head of steam. The two collided.
Samples quickly jumped up and ran back to the huddle. Rothar didn’t jump up. He was still looking for his helmet that had been sent flying by the force of a Luke lick.
The Catawba players went as wild as the fans behind them.
Catawba head coach David Bennett, meanwhile, was stunned.
“That linebacker’s helmet flew off and gosh, it was as big of a gash (on his head) as I’ve ever seen. There was blood gushing. What an electrifying play to ignite our bench and crowd.”
The one person wearing Catawba blue that wasn’t stunned by Samples’ play was center Daniel Lynch, who has seen all of this stuff before. He played his high school football for Tom Eanes at East Surry while Samples was the enemy at East Wilkes. Now, they are both redshirt freshmen.
“I played in the same conference,” Lynch pointed out, “and the one thing I always told Luke was, ‘Irespect you for not sliding. When it came down to it, you just ran over them.’”
Lynch grinned. “I used to try and kill him and he used to try and kill me. Now we’re on the same field and I’m centering the ball to him. It’s weird.”
Samples led time-consuming drive after time-consuming drive in the second half that helped the Indians break open a 7-7 game at halftime.
Afterward, he endeared himself to his offensive linemen by giving them all of the credit.
“The OLgave me time all day,” he said. “It was a complete 180 from last week.”
The offensive line was verbally abused after Catawba’s 12-0 win over Wingate in Week 3. Catawba ran for an average of two yards per carry.
“We didn’t have a good game,” Lynch understated. “People were saying we were the weakness.”
The numbers didn’t lie.
And the numbers didn’t lie against Presbyterian, either. Catawba ran 66 times for 338 yards, an average of five yards per clip.
Offensive coordinator Jamie Snider, who doubles as the line coach, sat the hogs down for a little chat.
“He told us not to think and not to worry about making the the block right,” Lynch said. “He told us to run our man 10 yards and put him on his back.”
Lynch knows exactly when the turnaround came for the linemen, who unlike most quarterbacks, look for people to hit.
“It was after a drive in the first quarter. We looked at each other and said, ‘They can’t play with us. We’re going to stick it to them.’”
Late in the game, deep in their own territory, Bennett put the linemen to the test. Catawba was facing a fourth-and-one on the 11.
Rodney Wallace plowed in behind No. 63 (Lynch) and No. 77 (Cole Beane) for three yards and a first down. When it was all over, the hogs were tired and dragging and their coach was proud and bragging.
“The way they were blocking, I knew we could get a yard,” Bennett shrugged.
Snider wore the biggest smile of all.
“We told the defense we were going to keep them off the field and we did that,” said Snider, referring to the offense, which controlled the ball for almost 40 of the game’s 60 minutes. “We decided we’d win because of the offensive line, not in spite of it,” he said.
“I love it,” Lynch beamed. “We were the strength.”
Yes they were, despite nagging injuries and the first game back for Beane, who was suspended for the first three. Wasn’t Beane a little rusty?
“Did he look rusty?” Snider asked.
Beane looked about as rusty as Samples did nervous.
Thirteen times he cradled the ball and headed upfield. Sixty-eight yards later, he was Catawba’s second-leading rusher.
“Luke said things to pump us up,” said Lynch. “He wasn’t shaky and he wasn’t nervous. It was like he had been a starter for four years.”
The players didn’t seem like they wanted to board the bus for home. They wanted to savor this victory over Bennett’s alma mater.
And while players will be players, coaches will, of course, be coaches.
“The new challenge is this,” Snider said.“Now, we have to do it again.”
To a man, the line can’t wait to get back out there Saturday against Newberry and hit somebody.
Ditto for the quarterback.
In his first start, Samples proved he’ll never be called Little Luke. But it does appear that he is the Real McCoy.
Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4256 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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