Top Defenses Collide in Saturday's Football Playoff Opener


SALISBURY, N.C. -- Catawba will entertain Tuskegee of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in a first round game of the NCAA II Playoffs at 1 pm on Saturday at Shuford Stadium.  It marks the first appearance in the playoffs for the Catawba Indians since 2007.  Tuskegee was knocked out in the first round last season by West Georgia 20-17.

Saturday will mark the first meeting between the teams in football.  Catawba has faced two members of the SIAC in previous playoffs.  The Catawba Indians topped Fort Valley State in its initial playoff game in 1999 and defeated Albany State in 2007.  Both of the games were at Shuford Stadium.  The lone common opponent on the season was UNC Pembroke.  Catawba topped the Braves 39-21 on Oct. 24 at Shuford Stadium.  Tuskegee lost to UNCP 29-17 on Oct. 3 at Pembroke.

Catawba is coming off a 28-14 win over Lenoir-Rhyne last week that clinched the Indians’ first outright league title since 2001.  Mike Sheehan was named the South Atlantic Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for three scores in the victory.  The junior quarterback ran for 106 yards on the day and also completed 11-of-16 passes for 128 yards.

Cary Littlejohn topped the 100-yard barrier for the third straight week, gaining 102 yards on 18 carries.  He is just 24 yards shy of becoming the sixth Catawba back to run for 1,000 yards in a season.  He would tie a school record with a fourth straight 100 yard day if he can reach the mark on Saturday.

Case Woodard made a big play for Catawba late in the first half with an interception and a 34-yard return for a score to give the Indians a 21-14 lead at the half.  The defense would pitch a shutout in the second half and held the Bears to just 131 yards as the offense controlled the ball for just over 20 minutes of the clock.

The Indians forced five Lenoir-Rhyne turnovers with Woodard picking off two passes.  Catawba recovered three of Bears’ six fumbles.  Catawba netted 21 points off the LR miscues and for the season have scored 61 points off its opponents 24 turnovers.  The Catawba defense has surrendered just 14 points off its own 13 turnovers.

Tuskegee last played two weeks ago and fell to Miles 26-23.  Miles overcame a 20-3 second-half deficit, scoring two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to take the win. 

Kevin Lacey had thrown three touchdown passes, two to Marquel Gardner, to stake the Golden Tigers to their lead.  He finished the day with 158 yards on 10-of-26 completions.  Gardner finished with four catches for 50 yards.  Dennis Norfleet led the ground attack with 97 yards on 15 carries.

The Tuskegee defense forced four turnovers and the offense converted those into 16 points.  Jonah McCutcheon had an interception and forced a fumble.  Jewell Ratliff, the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year, recorded 12 tackles with an interception.

The winner of Saturday’s game would take on the winner of the contest between #2-seed North Alabama and #7-seed Newberry.  An upset by Newberry would give the winner a home game in the second round.

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