Homefield advantage plays against Indians

By Mike London, The Salisbury Post

ALLENDALE, Mich. — Both teams played on the same soggy field, under the same dreary skies and in the same howling wind.

That’s why Catawba players and coaches voiced zero weather-related excuses after their 34-16 national semifinal loss to unbeaten Grand Valley State on Saturday.

Head coach David Bennett opined that the game was played in “a great football environment,” even though the sidelines were nasty and receivers sometimes skidded around like they were wearing skates.“It was a little slippery out there,” sighed Catawba freshman bull Rodney Wallace, who was held to 68 yards by the inspired Lakers. “But it’s still up to the back to find holes.”

“It was cold,” shrugged Indian quarterback Luke Samples. “But not overwhelmingly cold. That wasn’t the difference.”

Samples offered that statement even though the climate seemed much better suited for the Mars Bowl than a playoff game right here on Earth.

The fact is, even if you throw out weather conditions so miserable that no Indian or Indian fan will ever take a heater or a hot shower for granted again, Grand Valley State owned a monstrous — possibly decisive — homefield advantage.

Far more important to Grand Valley’s victory than 43 degree temperatures (Catawba played in 80-plus heat at Valdosta last week) and that no-way-to-simulate-it-in-Carolina breeze that surged off nearby Lake Michigan at 21 mph, was the fact that roughly 6,285 of the 6,585 fans that made themselves at home in Lubbers Stadium were Laker fans.

No, make that fanatics. Those Laker lovers generated more noise over the final three quarters than a 747 at takeoff . They screamed at Catawba players and they screamed at officials and when they got bored with that, they screamed at each other.

It was a madhouse.

“The weather may have helped us, but our fans helped us out more,” said Grand Valley defensive tackle Shad Risk. “I thought our fans really hurt Catawba’s offense.”

“Catawba’s so young on offense,” explained Grand Valley coach Brian Kelly. “The noise had to cause some confusion for them. I wanted this game to be decided by their offense having to drive the ball against our defense.”

And against that noise volume.

Catawba was favored to win yesterday, mostly because of Grand Valley’s uncertainty at quarterback. But a raucous, rowdy homefield proved more than an equalizer.

“That was one big, big crowd,” said an appreciative Kelly. “And we’ve been at home. Catawba’s been on the road for the last two weeks. Last week, they bused to Georgia (to play Valdosta State). This week they’ve got to get on a plane out of North Carolina and come to us. That was a huge help, no doubt about it.”

When it was over, Grand Valley fans pulled down a goalpost.

No problem. They’d earned the right to cart around a post and to bounce around deliriously, numb to the news that the late afternoon temperatures were plummeting by the minute.

The nagging question. Would the Indians have won this game in Shuford with their crowd and in their comfort zone?

Probably? Maybe? Possibly?

No one can will ever be able to say for sure. What you can say with certainty is that Catawba’s chances would have been a whole lot better.

You can add that both teams bring back a ton of talent. So maybe we’ll see a rematch next year— in the new, improved Shuford Stadium.

“It would sure be nice,” said Bennett, “to have the chance to meet ’em again.”

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