Peake knew football would be special

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post The 20-14 Division II quarterfinal loss to Delta State was minutes old and fans raced to their cars drenched and depressed. What they thought was the greatest season in Catawba College football history had ended abruptly and the Indians, they all insisted, would now have to rebuild. After all, wasn’t Catawba losing 23 seniors, including 16 starters from this 11-1 team? The feeling all around was, “Well, boys, it was a nice run.” Deep below Goodman Gym, in a muddy, sloppy locker room, Dyran Peake sat in a corner, sniffing back tears. He was one of those 23 seniors. But he was not one of the people who thought the glory days of Catawba were over.“People don’t know what’s in this locker room,” he said. “People don’t know what’s coming back.” They do now. David Bennett’s program proved everyone wrong. Going into Saturday, Catawba has returned to the Division II playoffs. With three freshmen and two sophomores on the offensive line. With a defensive line that many times saw three freshmen and two sophomores. With a freshman quarterback and a freshman running back. Peake is now a graduate assistant at Duke. After he dried those tears last November, he hasn’t stopped smiling. Because he was absolutely correct. No one outside the Catawba football family knew. Until now. Catawba is 9-1 entering its home game against Central Arkansas Saturday. *** This is the season that David Bennett’s Indians put the stamp on the program. It’s evident that the last two seasons, which produced 22 wins in 25 games, was not just a good run. This program is not just a flash in the pan. This is the third straight year that Catawba has hosted a first-round playoff game. It is now thought of as an annual national championship contender. “The cupboard wasn’t bare,” smiled Bennett Tuesday afternoon during his weekly press conference at Western Steer, when asked about Peake’s comments. “We were not going to take a step back into mediocrity — and a lot of people were saying that. Our guys used that for motivation and proved that there is nothing mediocre about this ballclub.” *** After barely beating Wingate 12-0 in Week 3, some wondered. Catawba did not look good that day. But late in the fourth quarter, it solved one of its major questions — who would be the heir to all-world quarterback Mitch Ellis. Redshirt freshman Luke Samples, a big ol’ country boy from Wilkes County, took over at quarterback for senior Scott Sensing. Samples became Lou Gehrig, Sensing Wally Pipp. Samples never came out of the lineup. When he led the Indians to a 28-14 win over No. 22 Presbyterian the following week, he did it by handing off, mostly to Rodney Wallace the backfield’s other diaper dandy. When Samples led Catawba to a 31-3 win over Newberry, he did it by throwing four touchdowns. In Week 6, when undefeated Tusculum fell 21-17, you just knew Peake was in Durham, scanning the scores — and smiling. Catawba was peaking for Peake. *** Catawba players are being fitted for rings for the second straight season but perhaps the most amazing thing about the Indian uprising is that they have made fans of the South Atlantic Conference forget a team called Carson-Newman. Bennett has always stressed that he wanted his program on the same level as the one in Jefferson City — the one which has won SAC title after SAC title, the one who has national championships under its belt and, until Catawba emerged in 1999, never seemed to miss the playoffs. “For the last two years, we have been (on their level),” said Bennett. “But how can you measure success over two years? When Catawba College wins (the SAC)10 years in a row and a national championship or two, then you’ve arrived.” *** Believe this. Regardless of what Bennett says, Catawba has arrived and has again made its reservation for the yearly hot spot of Division II. It is vacationing in the playoffs. Bennett has led the way with uncanny motivation and a will to win that carries over to the players. He has them believing in the coaching staff. He has them believing in Catawba College. And more than anything, he has them believing in each other. “Peake hit it on the head,” Bennett said. “There is a lot of character on this football team. From the seniors, it’s a trickle-down effect. “I tell them, if you’re picking up trash, pick up every little piece. If you’re cleaning the commode at your house, clean it first class.” Bennett was getting on one of his famous rolls. He was preachin’ again. “It was like, one day at school, I was walking in and almost stepped on the grass — just three steps. But there was some dog poop right there and I almost stepped in it. I told the players, the moral to that story is, take no shortcuts. Do everything the right way and good things will happen. Take shortcuts and you might step in some dog poop.” *** You almost wish Peake could’ve been at Western Steer to hear this. It would’ve brought back some fond memories. “Peake’s a proud guy,” Bennett said of the former all-SAC defensive back from Duncan, S.C. “Once you’re a part of our football family, you’re always a part. “Duke was open last week and where was Dyran? He was down here before the game, giving everybody five, cheering them on for a conference championship.” Actually, Peake was cheering them on just minutes after his last collegiate football game. He knew what Catawba had built. He knew what Catawba was all about. Finally, a year later, so does everyone else. ######

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