Catawba linebacker D-Mo took lead for Four Tops

By Mike London, The Salisbury Post

VALDOSTA, Ga. — Catawba’s four veteran linebackers could just as well be known as the Four Tops.

Tops in the SAC? No question. Everyone figured that one out a long time ago. That’s why all four made this year’s All-SAC team.

Tops in Division II? Could be. The backers made a pretty good case for themselves in Saturday’s 37-34 overtime win over Valdosta State.Three of those LBs — junior Todd McComb and seniors Shawn Sanders and Shawn McBride — combined for 23 tackles.

But the surprising lead singer for the Tops against Valdosta’s tops-in-the-world offense was the least sung member of that quality quartet — senior Darris Morris, a ferocious flower that took a little longer to bloom than his three titanic teammates.

Morris, who stands a sleekly muscled 6-foot-5, towers above his shorter, thicker mates. He looks like he’d be more at home playing small forward for coach Jim Baker’s indoor Indians.

But Catawba football coach David Bennett was mighty glad he had Morris in pads against the high-powered and previously unbeaten Blazers, who were held under 40 points for only the second time this season.

Morris came up with two hits for losses, including a sack-snack he shared with lineman Richard Scott.

Oh, yes, and Morris also came up with what were likely the two plays of the game on a day when there were a thousand swings in mood and momentum.

Picture this scene. Valdosta’s leading 26-14 midway though the third quarter, and Catawba fans are at best clinging to faint hope.

Valdosta’s rabid, red-clad rooters are starting to yawn and are starting to pay more attention to radio updates on next week’s opponent than what’s happening on the field at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

Because so far the second half’s gone like this.

A Catawba three-and-out, followed by a march for an easy touchdown by Valdosta.

Then another Catawba three-and-out, followed immediately by another Valdosta march inside the Indian 10.

“One more score right there and it’s going to get real tough,” said Catawba coach David Bennett.

“One more score right there and maybe that’s enough,” agreed youthful Valdosta coach Chris Hatcher.

“I’m not saying one more score right there would have made us comfortable,” said Valdosta’s all-world QB Dusty Bonner. “But ...”

That one more score doesn’t materialize, however.

On second down, Morris bats down a Bonner pass. On third down, a sure tackle after a completion by backup backer Maurice Simpkins forces Valdosta into fourth-and-goal at the 5. In comes kicker Reid Bethea to tack on three automatic points for a 15-point lead, but his kick is interrupted in midflight by one of Morris’ powerful paws.

“(Defensive line coach Jim) Tomsula saw how they were protecting the kicker and told me I could come right over the top and beat the guard on the left side,” said Morris.

Morris did just that, taking a running start, then springing up like he was on a diving board.

“I timed it up just right,” grinned Morris. “I’m like 6-4 or 6-5, so I just jumped. I was fortunate enough to block it.”

Catawba was fortunate, too. When the Indians desperately needed something good to happen, Morris gave them a positive to point to.

And he was far from done.

Catawba was still down 26-21 with 7:43 left in regulation when a Valdosta drive stalled deep in Indian country.

Valdosta was going to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the 17 but incurred a delay-of-game penalty.

That brought up fourth-and-7 at the 22. Hatcher waved in Bethea for a field goal to push the lead back to eight.

Unfortunately for Valdosta, Morris ate up that attempt at an eight-point lead. Yep, it was deja vu all over again.

“D-Mo,” as he’s known to the Catawba faithful, swatted this kick down big-time, and reserve DB Eddie Wall scooped it up on the move like a shortstop. Wall returned the ball all the way to the Catawba 46. From there, Luke Samples directed a drive that gave the Indians their first lead since the first quarter.

Blocking field goals isn’t something the Indians work on in practice. It’s simply something that happens when a great athlete like Morris is determined to come up with a play.

And on this historic day, it might have been the biggest play of them all.

“Yeah, the delay of game penalty and then that blocked field goal by No. 11 (Morris),” said Hatcher. “If you had to point at one thing in a great game like this, I guess that may have been it.”


Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or .

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