Catawba coach taking victory in stride

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post David Bennett never dreamed his Catawba College Indians would open the season Saturday with a 55-0 win over neighbor Livingstone. “I woke up at 4 o’clock one morning during the week in a cold sweat,” he said Tuesday during his weekly press conference at Western Steer. “I dreamed we’d won 21-19.” That dream came before breakfast, by the way.

There’s an ol’ wife’s tale that you can’t tell somebody your dream before breakfast or it might come true,” he continued. “So I told nobody.”

The 55-point spread brought about another dream — a bad one. Suddenly, he had to hear from just about everybody.

“You go to church and you’ve got little ol’ ladies saying, ‘Why did you run up the score, Coach?’

“If we had only won 21-20 or 14-7, I’d be hearing, ‘Why was the game so close?’ So it’s just part of the territory. You have to take it in stride.”

Afterward, Bennett had dreams of “what ifs?” He referred to Scott Sensing’s very first pass that Michael Posey appeared to pick off for a sure touchdown. But the ball slipped out of his hands.

Bennett also referred to one of the high snaps from center to his punter Danny Jenkins, who leaped and made a one-handed grab and then sent the kick inside the five.

“If Posey intercepts that pass and goes for a touchdown, it’s 7-0 and a whole different ballgame,” he said.

Simply put, it was a game of breaks and Livingstone got nary a one.

On Sensing’s one touchdown pass, his primary receiver was covered. By two Blue Bears. Which, of course, left O.J. Lennon wide open for a 38-yard completion.

Lennon, who is coming back after sitting out last season, was almost shocked that he was so wide open.

“I knew I was going to score,” Lennon said. “I was almost jogging when I caught it.”

By halftime, the offense, which was the big question mark, was up 35-0.

“I don’t think Livingstone actually gave up,” Lennon said. “The will was still there. But I saw exhaustion in their eyes.”

Catawba seemed to want this game more. The Indians were highly-ranked (9th nationally) but were tired of hearing about last year’s loss to Delta State in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs and how many starters they lost.

“We were confident but we felt we had to bring it to the table as if it were the national championship,” Lennon said. “We knew Livingstone was coming in tough also and our mindset was that we had to put it all on the line.”

It didn’t take the defense long to realize that this was going to be another typical Catawba game.

“After the first series, we realized that even though we lost so-and-so and so-and-so, we were still going to play Catawba football — Catawba defense,” said All-American linebacker Todd McComb. ”We had a good game plan and rolled on like normal.”

But McComb didn’t talk defense long. He talked offense.

“The offense did great,” he beamed. “We had a good running game and a good passing game and that is awesome as far as I’m concerned.”

The winning part was nothing new either — at least for McComb. Catawba won for the 23rd time in its last 26 games.

“In high school, I was used to winning conference championships,” said the Thomasville native. “For me, it’s consistent.

“But I knew in spring ball we were going to be decent.”

To a man, the Indians pointed toward senior quarterback Sensing. Replacing a legend like Mitch Ellis would be a chore.

What kind of leader would Sensing be? How would he react to pressure? Could he make the throws?

He passed with flying colors, going 8-for-12.

“He was great in the huddle,” Lennon pointed out. “He wasn’t like, ‘Hey. I’m a tough guy.’ It was ‘All right guys, let’s get the first down here.’ He was the motivator in the huddle. You could see him taking charge.”

With a grin, Lennon added, “I almost saw Mitch Ellis in the huddle.”

Bennett’s biggest pat on the back for Sensing came when he looked at the final stats.

“Our offense didn’t turn the ball over and it found a way to score when we got good field position,” he said. “That’s the two positives.”

The only negative was the final margin. Bennett would’ve settled for a much closer score. Maybe not 21-19, but ...

“If it had turned out 21-7, that would’ve been fine with me,” he said. “But no closer than that.”

Bennett and Livingstone coach Greg Richardson met on the field afterward and Bennett said he actually apologized to his buddy.

“He told me we didn’t run it up,” Bennett said. “He told me they just had to get better.”

How much better can Catawba, which moved from ninth to sixth in the national Division II rankings, get?

“All you can do is work hard and let things fall where they may,” Bennett said.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4256 or .

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