Wofford 28, Catawba 3: Terriers, turnovers trample Tribe

By Mike London, Salisbury Post
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Halftime lasted just five minutes. Catawba's plans to upset Wofford lasted roughly three minutes longer than that.
The first eight minutes of Saturday night's game rolled off the clock in just-the-way-we-drew-it-up fashion for the Indians, as they constructed a methodical nickel-and-dime opening drive that registered five first downs.
Enthusiastic Indian fans were making noise as the Division II middleweight took it to the light-heavyweight from Division I-AA on that first possession and inched downfield. But on second-and-10 at the Wofford 16, A.L.Brown product Lee Basinger crashed through the Indian line, banged into Catawba QB Luke Samples and set up a sack. On the next play, Samples' pass over the middle intended for Rod Tenor was picked off by linebacker Jim Thurman at the Terrier 5. From there it was as downhill as an Olympic giant slalom for the Tribe (3-1). It was so frustrating, said Catawba coach Chip Hester. For sure, it was a team loss. We moved the ball great for eight minutes. Then we started making mistakes and couldn't score. Lightning, followed by wicked wind and torrential rain, descended on Gibbs Stadium with 4:56 remaining in the first half, offering the Indians a 48-minute reprieve. But flawless Wofford never missed a beat after the unusual delay and went on to batter the visiting Indians 28-3. After that initial interception, Wofford (3-1) rolled 96 yards, mostly on smooth option pitches to the outside, to take a 7-0 lead. That demoralizing one-chunk-at-a-time drive required 15 plays and chewed up 6 minutes, 32 seconds. We had the dive and the quarterback taken care of, sighed Catawba tackle Reggie Tucker. But the outside got us. Terrier coach Mike Ayers demonstrated very early on that drive that he was sure the Indian defense could stop his 14th-ranked team. The Terriers went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Wofford 33. Wofford is not a team that believes in punting, said Catawba cornerback Jamel Jackson. Ayers goes for it like that all the time, confirmed Basinger. He just lets us play. If we don't make the first down, well, the defense just goes back on the field and gets it done. Wofford easily picked up 3 yards and a first down on that fourth-and-1, and frustrated Catawba didn't make another stand on that impressive Terrier possession. We didn't underestimate what Wofford could do at all and we prepared very hard for this game, said Jackson. But their option is tough, and they played very powerfully. Catawba, ranked eighth in Division II, dug the hole deeper on its second possession, self-destructing with a familiar bugaboo -- penalties. Corey Ready's stellar kickoff return was erased by an illegal block, and the Indians were immediately backed up to their 1-yard line by two more penalties. Throwing from his end zone, Samples was again picked off by the ever-present Thurman. That turnover led to an easy Wofford TD for a 14-0 edge. Samples, ranked No. 11 In D-II in passing efficiency, had thrown just one pick in 79 passing attempts in his first three outings this season, but the Terriers victimized him a career-worst three times. Wofford started the second half with a 15-play, 80-yard cruise that mirrored its opening drive. Kevious Johnson spun away from Indian linebackers SaMario Houston and Dustin Cox on a 1-yard burst to make it 21-0. WC linebacker Timmy Thrift, who had already stopped Mario Crowe on a fourth-and-1 play in the second quarter, combined with Thurman to deny Rodney Wallace on a fourth-and-2 carry from the Wofford 20 on Catawba's first possession of the second half. That stop ended the Indians' last realistic chance to make a game of it. Catawba's offense never experienced trouble making visits to Wofford territory, but points were harder to come by than back-stage passes for Springsteen. Yards, on the other hand, were no problem. Catawba was only outgained 329-296. Samples completed 22-of-34 passes for a very respectable 210 yards. Ready had eight catches for 68 yards, while Brian Flynn had a career game with six grabs for 56. Wallace led the ground game with 36 yards. Catawba avoided being shut out for the first time since its 1994 opener against East Tennessee State when Allan Rohrbaugh kicked a 39-yard field goal with 10:53 left in the game. When the dismal day was over there wasn't much to do or say if you were on the Indian sideline. It's very disappointing that we didn't play anywhere near as well as we can play, said Hester. But Wofford is a great football team. *** NOTES: Catawba stopped Wofford for the first time midway through the second quarter when Khanis Hubbard sacked QB Trey Rodgers on a third-and-14 play. ... Ayers' first game as Wofford coach was a 44-31 loss to Catawba in 1988. ... Rohrbaugh was short on a 46-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute of the first half. ... Newcomer Matt Smith handled the two Indian kickoffs. ... Wofford tacked on its final TD with 6:28 left to play.

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