Catawba defense met its challenge

By Ronnie Gallaghner, The Salisbury Post The clock had crept under four minutes. Mars Hill quarterback Carlos Gatlin lined up in the shotgun and peeked left and then right. The 5-foot-6 gnat crouched and waited for the snap. It was fourth down and 6. The Lions trailed 28-21 but felt they had all the momentum, considering only seven minutes earlier, their deficit was 28-6. As far as the Catawba defense was concerned, it had come down to one play. This play.After a week of scrutiny, a week of questions and a week of doubt, maybe that’s how it should’ve been. “We said, ‘It’s now or never,’ said senior linebacker Darris Morris. “It was a crucial play,” agreed freshman lineman Piotr (pronounced Peter) Kalinowski. “I had to do it.” Catawba’s present and Catawba’s future made sure Gatlin never had a chance. Morris pressured from the outside. Gatlin tried to sneak away but Kalinowski gave him a Polish pummeling. The result was a 17-yard loss, a sack and a whole lotta high fives. Not to mention vindication. Incredibly, the Lions did get the ball back two minutes later, but by then, the Catawba defenders had remembered just exactly who they are. Jemonte Battle intercepted a pass on second down, effectively ending the 7-point win and the misery of losing to Carson-Newman a week earlier in double overtime, 40-34. *** Carson-Newman’s win last week did more than just hand Catawba its first loss in its last 24 regular season games. It gave renewed confidence to every other South Atlantic Conference team. How great, they wondered, could this Catawba defense be if it gave up 40 points? “My biggest thing was not showing the ill effects of the loss to my fiance,” said defensive coordinator Curtis Walker. “I didn’t take it easily. We lost and we didn’t play well.” Head coach David Bennett said all the right cliches throughout the week, downplaying the loss and playing up the fact Catawba was still in the hunt for a SAC title and a playoff berth. It’s in the past, he said. We must forget. But how do you forget a 40-point outing when you come in leading the nation in scoring defense? “We heard about how Mars Hill was coming in here thinking they had a chance to beat us,” said Battle. “We had to get our swagger back.” But before dealing with Mars Hill, the Indians had to deal with themselves. “It’s not like basketball, where you can play the next night,” said Morris. “We had to go through the whole week thinking about regrouping.” *** Yesterday’s main goal for Walker and his defense was not thinking too much. “We’ve got all these great athletes,” he said. “So we took the strategy out and just let them play today.” It worked for a half. The first four times Mars Hill had the ball, it was three plays and punt. On the fifth possession, Corey Reese intercepted the ball. By halftime, it was 21-0 Catawba. We’ve been a great defense for years,” Sanders reminded reporters afterward. “We’ve got a reputation. Just because of one bad week, we were not going to fold.” As senior leaders, that’s what linebackers Sanders, Morris and Shawn McBride stressed during the week to youngsters like Kalinowski. And it paid off late in the game when his time came. “They’re the best leaders I’ve ever been around,” Kalinowski said. “D-Mo was keeping guys pumped up even when Mars Hill was coming back.” *** And then, came the series that will be indelibly etched in Kalinowski’s mind forever. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula had told Richard Scott and his freshman to rotate in and out on their own. “Me and Richard made the decision that we’d be the best ones in there,” Kalinowski said. “The coaches put a lot on the line by putting me in there.” Then, the ball was snapped. “I gave it all I had,” Morris said. “And so did Pete.” Gatlin only saw Morris. “I had enough time to read it,” Gatlin said, “but I got a little anxious.” That’s because a 300-pound Polish sausage had him fried alive. Gatlin made a wild throw that almost ended up in the stands. “The feeling was enormous,” whewed Kalinowski. “There were so many different thoughts going through my mind. But the biggest thing was, we succeeded.” Yes they did, said a beaming Walker. “Our guys responded the only way they know how. They’re winners.” *** Moments after the game, Catawba heard the news that Tusculum had lost to Presbyterian for its second league loss, the other coming at Catawba. Suddenly, the Indians were back in first. Alone. A win over Lenoir-Rhyne next week gives them their second straight league crown. “Things just fell right in place for us,” smiled Sanders. As Kalinowski knew it would. “We make big plays,” he said. “It’s Catawba defense. It’s the best defense in the country.” Once again. ######

Today's Events

No events scheduled until September 3


«June 2022»

Mouse over the red calendar dates to display events on those days. Click to open the full-size calendar.


Football Team Photo