Getting ready for Division II playoffs

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post Once the playoffs begin, regardless of the level, you really get a feel for how different some schools and teams really are. Take the Division II football matchup Saturday between Catawba and Central Arkansas.First of all, Central Arkansas has almost 10,000 students. “Little ol’ Catawba,” as coach David Bennett likes to call his institution, has about 1,300. Bennett has his press conference at Western Steer, which has a room big enough to accommodate the radio announcers, players, coaches and some straggler sports writers who just want a free lunch. (Just kidding). Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque has a place to play (Estes Stadium) that is large enough to have his media day in a dining room there. Conque calls his press conference, “the Bearbacker luncheon.” Bennett calls his get-together the, “C’mon in and eat, boys,” press conference. And that’s OK. You can talk to a coach anywhere while munching on some food. *** FLY, BOYS: But the real difference between the two schools is air travel. Why was Central able to fly instead of busing to Salisbury? One, a rich, local businessman has a plane for Bear use. Two, a Division II rule states a team cannot fly if the game is closer than 500 miles. Salisbury is estimated at 570 miles from Conway. *** DRIVE TIME: When it came time to exchange film, the two schools had different agendas. Bennett sent young assistants Kevin McKenzie and Lyndsey Lyerly, by car, to Nashville, Tenn., which is the halfway point. Central Arkansas put their film on a private plane and flew it to Nashville. Needless to say, the Bear coaches were breaking down film before the Catawba coaches got out of bed on Monday. In fact, the film almost didn’t make it back to Salisbury. Bennett said that the two youngsters were taking turns driving and when McKenzie, last year’s star running back, got behind the wheel as Lyerly went to sleep. “It’s a good thing Lyndsey woke up,” Bennett laughed. “McKenzie was on (Interstate) 81 headed for Bristol, Tenn. Lyerly woke up in time to turn him back around.” McKenzie’s explanation? “The road forked back there.” *** SWITCHES: Catawba asked for film on Central Arkansas’ loss to Valdosta State and Arkansas Tech, and also the film of the Bears’ win over Delta State. Conque didn’t ask for the loss to Carson-Newman, which is famous for its veer offense. Instead, he wanted film on Presbyterian, Tusculum and Lenoir-Rhyne for one reason and one reason only. Those teams threw the ball a lot against Catawba’s defense, something the Bears plan to do Saturday. Quarterback Brian Stallworth is one of almost 20 Division I transfers and you may remember him if you watched Nick Maddox’s debut with Florida State a couple of years ago. Florida State defeated Louisiana Tech but La. Tech had an outstanding passing quarterback. His name? Brian Stallworth. Stallworth, who threw for 413 yards in a season-ending 33-28 loss to Arkansas Tech, also led La. Tech to an upset win over Alabama before transferring to Central Arkansas. *** IMPRESSED: And now that Conque has the film on Catawba? “Without question, this is the best defensive team I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching at this level,” he told David McCollum of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark. “They are athletic and really fly around. They have a strong kicking game and a good multiple offense. They are certainly worthy of playing for a national championship.” There’s the scouting report, folks. *** MORE AIRFARE: Conque will not fly to North Carolina with the team and media on Friday. His son plays for the Conway High School Wampus Cats (what in the heck is a wampus cat?) in the state playoffs. He will fly in on Saturday on a (ho-hum) private jet. *** BENNETT’S FRIDAY: Bennett won’t have to fly back from his high school games Friday. He said he is expecting to watch half of North Rowan’s home game against Pisgah to scout tight end James House and then go to South Rowan for the second half of its playoff game against McDowell. Bennett said he is interested in a couple of McDowell players, and wants another look at Raider linebacker (and most recently running back) Jay Phillips and defensive back Brad “The Hit Man” Lanning. *** WHERE’S CONWAY? Conway, Ark. is about 45 minutes from Little Rock in the middle of the state. It’s a city of about 35,000 but the metropolitan area brings the population to around 55,000. And it’s in a dry county. *** CIAA LETDOWN: Had Winston-Salem State won its CIAA championship game last week over Virginia Union, it would have created something new in the South Region poll. The Rams were fifth going in and with Central Arkansas losing and No. 2 Tuskegee opting not to play in the playoffs, WSSU and Fort Valley State of the SIAC, would have probably joined Valdosta State and Catawba. It would have been the first time in recent memory that all four conferences in the South Region (including the South Atlantic and Gulf South)would’ve been represented. And Winston-Salem State would have come to Catawba. Catawba officials said it would have been the largest crowd in school history. “We would’ve had to bring bleachers in and enclose the place,” Bennett said of his 4,000-seat Shuford Stadium. *** FAN SUPPORT: Catawba may have the largest crowd in Shuford Stadium history anyway. The forecast is sunny and 70 degrees. “On a Saturday afternoon in November, I can’t think of a better place to be than at Shuford Stadium,” Bennett said. “It will be money well spent.” For the record, advance tickets are $10 and $12 on the day of the game. *** QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Conque’s best line came after Saturday’s loss that left Central Arkansas 9-2 and holding its breath on whether it would even get in top four of the South Region. “The player of the game,” Conque announced, “is the NCAA South Region Selection Committee.” ######

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