Catawba football team has respect now

By Ronnie Gallaghner, The Salisbury Post Catawba College’s football team realized it had reached the pinnacle of success Saturday night. It realized that it was recognized as one of the most respected, most powerful programs in America. And the strange thing is, the Indians realized all of this after a loss.Carson-Newman, which has a tradition second to none over the last 20 years, defeated Catawba in Jefferson City, 40-34 in a double-overtime thriller. If ESPN had been there, it surely would’ve been an instant classic. If you’re just an average football fan, you’d think, ”So Catawba lost at Carson-Newman. What’s the big deal? Coach David Bennett has never won at Carson-Newman.” However, if you are close to Catawba’s program, you had to smile at what happened after the victory. Carson-Newman stormed the field to celebrate the win over Catawba. Let’s say that again. Carson-Newman stormed the field to celebrate the win over Catawba. Even with a loss, that might have have been the biggest compliment to Bennett since he took over the Indians’ program in 1995. *** Bennett was getting ready for church on Sunday and all sorts of thoughts going through his mind. What if this? What if that? Then, wife Melanie made him see the light. “Remember many, many years ago when we first got here?” she reminded her husband. “We would’ve given anything to go overtime with Carson-Newman.” “She told me it was kinda weird to watch them celebrate so much after they beat Catawba,” Bennett smiled while telling the story at Tuesday’s subdued press conference at Western Steer. “Who would’ve thought that?” *** No one, really. Carson-Newman is a Division II powerhouse. It used to be a NAIA powerhouse. When it didn’t make the national playoffs last season, thanks in large part to a 13-10 loss at Catawba, it was big, big news. But Saturday’s celebration told Bennett something. “I think we’re taking this program in the right direction,” he said. That’s a safe statement, considering the loss was the first regular season defeat since mid-1999. That’s more than enough time to forget what it’s like to lose. When Luke Samples’ pass fell harmlessly to the ground on fourth down in the second overtime, no Indian knew what to do. “When things didn’t go as planned, it shocked us,” said wide receiver Cedric Squirewell. “It was a new feeling.” It sure was. “You really don’t know how to feel,” Bennett said. “You’re not used to it. You don’t like it. “But as a coach, you’ve got to be prepared, whether you win or lose. Running through your mind is, ‘What are you going to say to the guys?’ ” *** Bennett was honest. He told the Indians, many who have never lost in the regular season, to let it hurt Saturday. Let it hurt a little less on Sunday. And on Monday, we’ve got practice, so be ready. By Tuesday, all thoughts were on next Saturday’s homecoming game against Mars Hill. “If we haven’t forgotten about it, we should,” Squirewell said. “We’ve got to move on. We just have to get our attitudes together.” Bennett said to forget last Saturday but do not ever forget what led up to last Saturday. Twenty-three straight weeks is a heck of a long time without a loss. “Who’s the last team around these parts to win 23 straight regular season football games?” Bennett wanted to know. “Has North Carolina done it? N.C. State? Wake? Duke? “It’s something we’re very proud of, but all records come to an end sometimes. “Nobody’s perfect.” Maybe not, but if there was ever a perfect ending to a loss, it was Saturday night when Carson-Newman fans charged the field. The Eagles had beaten little ol’ Catawba College. And for the first time, it was a big deal. #####

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