College Football: Wingate 30, Catawba 19
WINGATE — For Catawba fans searching for positives, at least it was a team effort.
“We played like crap,” said Taylor Fender, the leader of Catawba’s offensive line. “Everybody. Everybody had a bad day.”
Coming off back-to-back 500-yard offensive explosions, the Indians turned the ball over six times in the passing game and lost 30-19 at Wingate. Quarterback Mike Sheehan threw five interceptions, while tight end Tyler Hamilton lost a fumble after making a reception.
“Watching Catawba’s offense on film, I lost some hair,” said Wingate head coach Joe Reich. “It made me sick and kept me up at night watching their offense, and we knew they’d be the best offense we’d faced. I’m not saying I was scared, but I have all kinds of respect for Catawba’s offense. I didn’t know how in the world we’d stop them.”
Wingate (4-2, 1-2 SAC) stopped the Indians with a simple formula that has worked for good defenses for decades; stop the run then pressure the quarterback.
Catawba (3-3, 2-2 SAC) tried to spread out the Bulldogs with four receivers but still couldn’t run. Even with a 40-yard burst by David Burgess early, Catawba netted just 104 yards on 39 rushing attempts. It was second-and-9 frequently, and then the Bulldogs were coming after Sheehan. He was sacked three times.
“We had a good plan and we have to give (defensive coordinator) Rashaan Jordan credit,” Reich said. “We were able to turn it into a drop-back game. And then it became a defense-and-field-position game.”
Kyle Johnson threw three TD passes for the Bulldogs and Jordan Berry had two receiving touchdowns, but punter Chandler Phillips was Wingate’s MVP. Five of his eight punts were downed or went out of bounds inside the Catawba 10. Reich said the Bulldogs hadn’t had success pinning an opponent inside its 10 even once before Catawba came to town.
“Our field position was terrible,” Catawba receiver Gary Williams said. “It’s kinda tough to score when you start that far back.”
Catawba trailed 6-0 before Chad Hollandsworth got the Indians on the board with a 31-yard field goal.
Down 13-3 in the second quarter, Catawba hit its biggest play when Sheehan scrambled right and spotted Williams behind everyone.
“We just weren’t able to make enough plays like that,” Williams said. “They had physical DBs and they were getting such a rush that we usually didn’t have time to run our routes.”
Catawba trailed 19-9 at halftime.
Sheehan took some punishment. His head was jerked violently when he was face-masked and his arm was stepped on after he’d been tackled. He missed a few plays but wasn’t out long.
Catawba was the better team in the third quarter and appeared to take over. A special teams mistake by the Bulldogs handed Catawba a TD — Sheehan scored from the 14 — and an interception by lineman Gabe Evans set up Hollandsworth for a field goal that tied the game at 19.
“That’s two picks in two games for me,” Evans said. “We just had the right defense called and I was in the right spot.”
With the score still tied at 19, Catawba got another stop, on a Mark McDaniel interception at the Catawba 2 late in the third quarter. Field position was horrendous for the Indians after that.
“Our field position was bad, but that was on us,” Catawba head coach Curtis Walker said. “We’d get a stop, but then we’d go three-and-out. They kept pinning us deep because we allowed ourselves to keep getting backed up. We had momentum in the third quarter, but then we gave it back.”
A Phillips punt made Catawba start on its 6, and Sheehan’s third-and-9 pass was picked off by Jon Jimenez at the Catawba 33. Nestor Lantigua converted fourth-and-1 at the Catawba 22 to keep the driving going, and Lantigua scored the decisive TD from the Catawba 4 with 9:25 left.
Catawba never escaped the shadow of its end zone, and Wingate tacked on two safeties, one when Sheehan had to fall on a snap in the end zone and one on an intentional grounding flag in the end zone.
“I don’t want to take away anything from Wingate,” Walker said. “But this was more about us than what they did to us. We didn’t execute, and when you have six turnovers, you’re not going to beat anyone.”
Catawba was held to 12 first downs and 271 total yards, 200 less than its average.
The Indians got 12 tackles from Jason Taylor. Derrick Lee and Kyle Kitchens had sacks. Michael Peppers also picked off a pass for Catawba.
But it was Wingate’s day, and the Bulldogs now have beaten Catawba four times in a row and six out of seven.
“We didn’t play a complete game,” Evans said. “Not enough intensity. We didn’t have that fire.”
Follow Mike London on Twitter at @mikelondonpost3.