Catawba football notebook: Teamwork too much for Valdosta

By Ronnie Gallagher, The Salisbury Post

Time was winding down in regulation in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs and Valdosta State was holding on to a precarious 34-27 lead. Catawba had a third-down play from the Valdosta 4 as the clock wound under 20 seconds.

Rodney Wallace had been stopped cold twice, but on the sidelines, Tony Hawkins knew he could get the ball into the end zone.“I was standing beside Coach, telling him, ‘I can get to the edge. Give me a chance. Put me in,’ ” grinned Hawkins Monday morning, reliving the moment.

He got his chance, scored and Catawba eventually won 37-34 in overtime.

Hawkins personifies why Catawba (11-1) is in this week’s semifinal showdown in Allendale, Mich., against 11-0 Grand Valley State.

He expected to be the starting tailback but Wallace, a true freshman, grabbed that spot. Instead of pouting, Hawkins, a redshirt sophomore from Fayetteville, cheered on Wallace and made the most of his chances.

“It’s all about the team,” said Hawkins, “not individuals.

“A lot of people told me we couldn’t win,” he continued. “But we’ve been proving people wrong all year. Hopefully, we’ll get to the national championship and prove more people wrong.”


DUSTED: Catawba ended the career of Valdosta State’s record-breaking quarterback Dusty Bonner, who will probably be an NFL draft pick.

“I hope he gives credit to the people around him,” said head coach David Bennett. “The cast around Dusty Bonner helped make Dusty Bonner.”


MORE GULF SOUTH: Bennett has always bragged on the Gulf South Conference, but in the last two seasons Catawba is 3-1 against that league.

But Bennett points out, “There wasn’t a single one of those games that we won handily. We were down by 10 with 10 minutes left against West Georgia (in a 28-24 win). We were down 11 to Central Arkansas (in a 35-34 win) and we were down 12 to Valdosta State with them threatening in the third quarter. We’ve been blessed and fortunate to win them.”

The loss, of course, came to Delta State, 20-14, in the second round last year in a driving rainstorm in Salisbury.


THE FORECAST: Catawba is expected to play in temperatures reaching the low-30s this week, but Bennett says it will be better than the heat of Brunswick, Ga., where the Indians practiced in 80-degree heat.

Actually, it wasn’t so much the heat that frustrated Catawba. It was the sand gnats.

“You ought to see Bucky Yates,” Bennett said of his oft-bitten center. “His legs looks like he has the measles.”


TRAVEL PLANS: Catawba will leave Thursday on a charter for the 90-minute flight into Grand Rapids.

“Probably half of our players have never flown,” said Bennett. “We told ‘em to put some chewing gum in their mouths so their ears won’t pop and go to sleep. We’d wake ‘em up when we got there.

“We want to get there early and get used to that climate. It will depend on how well our kids adjust to that and how mentally tough they are.”


AFRAID TO FLY? For Catawba fans who are fearful of airplanes, a bus will leave Catawba’s stadium parking lot at 7 p.m. on Thursday evening.

Cost is $125 per person. Hotel expenses are extra. Call 704-637-4474 for details.


BETCHA DIDN’T KNOW: The father of Salisbury resident Rip Collins was the first coach at Grand Valley State.


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: The offensive player of the week was Cedric Squirewell. He caught four passes, one on a juggling catch, and had a 49-yard kickoff return.

Linebacker Darris Morris was the defensive player. He blocked two field goals, was in on a sack and broke up a pass.

The special teams player was redshirt freshman Kenny White of Davie County. He had three tackles on kick coverage and shared the award with kicker Matt Gross, who booted the winning field goal.


HE’S SPECIAL: White is expected to be even more special next year. He’s also a linebacker who must replace one of three senior stars who make up the strength of the defense.

“I’ve learned a lot from those guys,” White said. “They took me under their wing. They’re great linebackers and I’m going to work real hard this summer to get prepared to fill their shoes.”


GETTING A CHANCE: OK, maybe defensive back Nick Hopper isn’t the quickest guy on the Catawba team, but the Shelby native has made two huge plays in the last two weeks.

He batted down a fourth-down pass that helped seal a win over Central Arkansas in the first round and had an interception that he ran back to the 4 to set up a touchdown against Valdosta State.

“Nick won’t outrun many people but he’ll outsmart ‘em, outhustle ‘em and outplay ‘em,” said Bennett.

“On his interception, he couldn’t get turned around and on film, it looked like he was moonwalking,” chuckled Bennett.


NOTES: When the team rolled in from Valdosta in the wee hours of Sunday morning, it was met by president Fred Corriher, carrying Sunday morning’s Post. ... In the other semifinal game, Cal Davis, winner of the West Region, faces off against Midwest Region victor North Dakota. ... For the record, Cal-Davis has an enrollment of 23,496 and North Dakota’s is 11,145. ... Wallace set a new Catawba high for rushing (including playoffs)with 1,095 yards. ... Catawba equaled a school record of scoring in 89 straight games. ... Defensive back Marcus Hicks, who is nursing a high ankle sprain, is 90 percent. ... In 12 games, Catawba’s defensive player of the week has been a linebacker on eight occasions.... Catawba is still ranked first in the nation in scoring defense (14.8).


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