Indians open at home for playoff opener

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post For a solid week, Catawba College football coach David Bennett had talked up the University of Central Arkansas’ Estes Stadium, a beautiful structure located in Conway, Ark., that holds over 10,000 fans. “Look at the pictures on their web site,” he told everyone who would listen. But after the events of the past weekend, the web site is the only look Catawba fans will get. The Gulf South team lost 33-28 to Arkansas Tech, moving the Indians — 31-14 winners over Lenoir-Rhyne — from fourth to second in the South Region and dropping UCAto third. Just like that, Catawba became the host of a first-round Division II playoff game for the third straight season.Catawba, 9-1 and the South Atlantic Conference champion, will host the 9-2 Bears Saturday at 1 p.m. The other South matchup has No. 1-seed Valdosta State (11-0) going up against No. 4 Fort Valley State (8-2). The top four teams in four regions make up the 16-team Division IIfield. Teams griping today include 8-2 Virginia Union and 9-2 Arkansas Tech. Union, beat Winston-Salem State in the CIAA title game 31-24 for its sixth straight win. WSSU, ranked fifth going in,had a shot at the playoffs until the loss dropped the Rams to 8-3. *** There was no question that Catawba would get a bid. The question was whether it would get a home game. “A lot of people were real excited (when they heard about UCA’s loss),” said athletic director Dennis Davidson. “I tried to stay calm. The polls are political. But I was 99 percent sure.” Davidson said the game was slated for 1 p.m. because of the darkness factor. Shuford Stadium, which will be torn down after this season and rebuilt, does not have lights. *** Getting ready for Central Arkansas was not an easy task. Sunday night, around 6 p.m, the Catawba coaches were going stir crazy. They had no film to watch and Bennett hadn’t returned from the SAC all-conference meeting. In past years, Catawba has exchanged film by plane and had something to look at by Sunday night. Not this time. “Because of the events on Sept. 11, if you don’t have a pin number or you don’t fly things all the time, then you can’t just show up at the gate and say, ‘I need to ship this,’ ” offensive coordinator Jamie Snider said. So while the coaches sat around eating cake and pie, assistants Kevin McKenzie and Lyndsey Lyerly got the nod to drive six hours to a midway point — Nashville, Tenn. — and exchange film. They were supposed to arrive back in Salisbury around 3 a.m. “It throws off your routine,” said Bennett. “Now, there’s going to be a whole lot of work done real early Monday morning.” *** Davidson knows his routine, considering he is a veteran of hosting Division II playoff games. A school must pay $10,000 to host a first-rounder, then $15,000 for the quarterfinals and $20,000 for the semifinals. Last season, Catawba made money on its first-round win over West Georgia but lost money when the quarterfinal game against Delta State — a 20-14 loss— was played in a driving rainstorm, keeping fans at home. “But it’s worth it to be home,” said Davidson, who quickly pointed out that Catawba is 19-1 at Shuford Stadium over the last three seasons. “The key is to sell advance tickets.” Advance tickets are $10 and gameday tickets are $12. *** As far as Central Arkansas, the Bears weren’t even sure they’d get in after Saturday’s loss. “We look at this as a second chance,” coach Clint Conque told reporters. Central Arkansas, making its first postseason appearance since it went to the NAIAsemifinals in 1992, has put up some tremendous numbers. The Bears are averaging over 500 yards and 42 points per game. UCA also used plenty of Division I transfers to reverse its fortunes, going from 3-8 to 9-2. The Bears have not lost on the road this season. “We have one of the most exciting offenses in college football that has put up consistent numbers in every game,” Conque told the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway on Saturday afternoon. “I think we can sell some tickets. I think if we get in, we would be a very dangerous team in the national playoffs.” The Bears did get in and now it’s up to the Catawba coaches to figure out a way to stop them. And they’ll try — as soon as they get their hands on some film. ######

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