Football

Catawba 27, Tusculum 22: Bold call clinches Catawba win

   By Mike London, <a target="_blank" href="http://salisburypost.townnews.com">The Salisbury Post</a><br /><br />
Catawba's second-year head coach Chip Hester has been accused of being as conservative as a white dress shirt, but he was bolder than a purple tuxedo on Saturday at Shuford Stadium.<br />
Catawba was clinging to a 27-22 lead over SAC rival Tusculum. The Indians had the ball but a holding penalty had pushed the Tribe back to its 46. The clock was nearing nearing 90 seconds. It was third-and-14.<br />
Play it safe and send Rodney Wallace up the middle for 3 yards, and then bring in punter Pat Huskins, right?<br />Not with Bart Maverick steering the ship. Hester called for a gimmick play. The Indians had worked diligently on a draw-it-up-in-the-dirt gem all week, half-believing they'd never get a chance to spring it.

When the call came in, we were excited, said QBLuke Samples.

Everyone in the huddle's eyes lit up, confirmed birthday-boy Joe Nixon, the right tackle. People are always complaining about the play calls. Well, how about this one? And then we executed.

The call was a risky double pass. First, Samples tossed to receiver Corey Ready behind the line of scrimmage. The Tusculum defense converged on Ready in the left flat, but he wasn't going anywhere. Instead, he looked deep down the sideline, and spotted 6-foot-5 Brian Carter sprinting all alone. Ready's pass was better than perfect. Carter, who had four catches for 119 yards, made the grab and lugged the ball to the Tusculum 5.

A 49-yard gain. First down. Ballgame.

Ready made me look bad, said a smiling Samples. The least he could've done was put a little wobble in it. But he threw a perfect spiral.

People will talk about that play for the next two weeks. If it had failed, it might have been talked about for the next two centuries. Hester didn't care. He went with his gut feeling.

We knew how aggressive Tusculum's corners were and thought we might get a big play, he explained. We felt good about it. We put the ball in Ready's hands, and we knew he wouldn't mess up.

The huge victory placed Catawba (8-1, 5-0) in control of the SAC race and kept alive hopes to play at Shuford in the Division II playoffs. A win at Carson-Newman next week would pretty much clinch that scenario. The Pioneers, who beat Carson-Newman at home last week, fell to 7-2, 4-1.

The biggest thing was Tusculum was in our house, said veteran safety LaQuane Talley, who blocked a punt and made a massive fumble recovery. We didn't ever doubt ourselves. But there's a big difference between being cocky and confident. We were confident.

These guys have been so consistent, Hester said. Some people picked us to lose at home today and that makes you circle the wagons a little bit. Maybe our guys aren't flashy, but they don't shy away from anyone. They weathered a storm today. They responded.

In the first half, Catawba treated high-powered Tusculum like it was just another team. Tusculum had two first downs at intermission and was lucky to be down 14-0. It could've been 28-0.

Catawba missed field goals on its first two possessions, but Jemonte Battle's interception of a ball that deflected off Tusculum's Donald Amaker put the Indians in business on the Pioneer 14, and Samples hit an open Rod Tenor for a TD with 43 seconds left in the first quarter. Rush Rollins' PAT made it 7-0.

In a textbook drive to close the first half, Catawba, pounding out small chunks against the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, ripped eight minutes off the clock. The 17th play of the 72-yard march was Samples' 8-yard TD toss to Brian Flynn.

Jumped as high as I could, said Flynn. I didn't have any more left in me. That was a big score at the end of the half.

Catawba coaches warned the Indians it was far from over, and they believed them. But Tusculum roared back in the third quarter, anyway. Tusculum took advantage of a short field to score twice, and it was 14-all.

The coaches made it a point at halftime, sighed Nixon. They told us, 'Don't let it happen.' But it happened.

We didn't let down, Hester said. It's just that we were playing a good football team with a lot of heart. They were gonna make a run.

Tusculum had momentum and was looking for the lead, when the game reversed field again. On third-and-1 at the Tusculum 32, Chris Mosley turned the right corner. He had a first down, but freshman DB Reggie Terry popped him, the ball squirted free and Talley recovered in a sideline dog-pile.

The feeling on that turnover was ecstasy, said Indian defensive leader Khanis Hubbard.

Three plays later, Samples tossed his third TD pass -- the 47th of his career -- to Carter. The Indians led 21-14.

Catawba's D set up an insurance TD when Marcus Huntley sacked Tusculum QB Tony Colston and knocked the ball loose. Bryan Biggs recovered at the Tusculum 12. Then Wallace scored from the 1 to make it 27-14 with 13:37 to go.

The PAT was an adventure, though. A bad snap led to Tusculum getting two points when D.J. Starling took the ball 100 yards in the other direction.

Tusculum scored a quick TD with 3:32 remaining to get within 27-22.

But Jonas Scott made an acrobatic catch of an onside kick, and the Indians killed the clock with the aid of the trick play.

We believed in each other and we all pulled together, summed up cornerback Jamel Jackson. Offense, defense, special teams. Everybody.

***

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

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