Catawba 'Cool Hand Luke' leads win over Newberry

By Mike London, The Salisbury Post

Catawba quarterback Luke Samples was on.

Samples, a redshirt freshman making his first Shuford Stadium start, was so determined, so locked in, so purposeful that even if Vanna White had walked into the Tribe huddle and asked him to buy a vowel, the polite 6-foot-3, 210-pounder would have ignored her.Samples’ focus was strictly on his racehorse receivers on this sunny, windy Saturday afternoon, and the kid’s concentration was something to behold.

“Cool Hand Luke” had the hottest of hands, logging four TD passes and 15 completions in 20 attempts as Catawba (5-0, 3-0) stayed perfect with a 31-3 rout of South Atlantic Conference opponent Newberry (3-2, 0-2).

Samples threw just one interception, and that one came on an unlucky carom off the chest of Nick Means, who made amends by grabbing two of Samples’ TD aerials.

“Luke was right on the mark, he was pinpoint with his passing,” said smiling Catawba coach David Bennett. “Luke hit his receivers to the corner and he hit them to the sideline and he hit them to the post and he hit them down the middle.”

A week earlier down at Presbyterian, Samples had run right over a stunned Blue Hose linebacker with a move that wowed his teammates and became known as a “Samples Trample.”

This time, Samples settled for running Newberry right out of Shuford.

No one questioned Samples’ heart or physique after the PC game, but there was still uncertainty about the accuracy of his arm after a 4-for-14 effort that included two picks and a mere 34 yards.

Might as well go ahead and fling that uncertainty in the nearest circular file. Even last year’s superstar, Mitch Ellis, could not have improved upon what Samples unleashed yesterday.

“I think this was a big game for us,” said Samples, “because today we showed people we could pass. We also could’ve run the ball, but the pass was always there for us.”

In short, Samples squeezed the Newberry defense as tightly as Mr. Whipple used to squeeze the Charmin. Besides two short TD throws to Means on inside routes, Samples found Arnold Gaither for scores covering 5 and 62 yards.

“I thought Luke stood very, very tall today,” offered O-line leader Joe Nixon. And when a hog speaks admiringly of a glamour-position guy, you know the boy’s got something special.

Opposing defensive coordinator Allen Brown agreed, after Newberry was buried.

“My high school team played against Luke’s (East Wilkes) team in the high school playoffs,” said the former Thomasville High coach. “He had a better game against us today then I expected of a freshman, but I always knew Luke could play.

“I thought coming out of high school, Luke was a definite Division I prospect.”

It sure looks like Duke could use Luke, but don’t look for the Indians to swap him. Even if the Blue Devils throw in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Even with its passing game clicking and its heralded defense sticking, it wasn’t a flawless afternoon by any means for Catawba, which fumbled the pigskin six times.

Catawba was fortunate to only lose one of those loose balls. It was especially lucky that it didn’t lose the one that occurred on the opening kickoff. Adam Smith fell on that one after a furious free-for-all.

“We had five fumbles on snap-exchange things,” sighed Bennett. “That’s something you don’t want to see, even on the first day of practice.”

Catawba jumped out 14-0 on those two slick slants that Means pulled in.Then the game’s most exciting sequence arrived late in the first half, as Catawba faced fourth-and-a foot at the Newberry 4 with 59 seconds left to play.

The crowd screamed, “Go.” Bennett answered “No.”

Then he sent in ace kicker Matt Gross for the automatic field goal that would put Catawba up by three scores. But to the horror of everyone on the home side, Gross pulled his kick to the left.

But Newberry, which had faced a schedule softer than a baby’s bottom before Saturday, couldn’t run out the clock. Hard-running back Chad Tackett fumbled and linebacker Daris Morris pounced on the pumpkin for Catawba.

This time Catawba added the clincher, as Samples lofted a ball on third-and-goal that was plucked from the ionosphere by the towering Gaither with just five ticks remaining.

“Arnold’s like 6-6 and the corner was maybe 5-7,” said Samples. “The corner did his best, but it’s not like it had to be a great throw.” Now it was 21-0 and officially over.

“We felt when that first half went in the books, we shoulda been down 7-0, not 21-0,” said Tackett. “That last score took some air out of us. Their defense is so good, so quick, you’re just trying to fight for a few yards after first contact. How are you going to get 21 points back?”

Newberry did scratch out a consolation field goal in the second half — to the disgust of Catawba’s defenders — but it was more than answered by a Gross 44-yarder and a magical 62-yard hookup by Samples and Gaither.

Gaither was double-covered down the middle, but Samples lofted the ball into the heavens and gravity brought it down in the waiting arms of a speeding Gaither, who headed for the house.

That pass was the absolute truth. Call it the football gospel, according to Luke.

Tall as Arnold is, he was still able to get it,” said Samples. “But that wasn’t the right read. He was doubled.”

But that was as close as Samples came to doing anything wrong once he had the ball in his grasp. Still, he remained as modest as a clean-shirted, fourth-string punter.

“I’m not trying to be a hero,” he said. “I just want to put my team in good position.”


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