GREENEVILLE, TN -- Quarterback Patrick Dennis (Durham, NC/Cedar Ridge HS) threw three second-half touchdown passes and the defense recorded 10 sacks as Catawba avoided its first four-game losing streak since 1994 with a 41-27 win over host Tusculum in South Atlantic Conference football action on Saturday afternoon at Pioneer Field. The Catawba Indians improve to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the SAC, while the Pioneers fall to 1-6 and 0-4.
Catawba trailed 20-13 at the break, but Dennis threw all three of his scoring strikes in the third quarter as Catawba rallied for a 34-27 lead. His 15-yard pass to Grayson Downs (Mt. Pleasant, NC/Mt. Pleasant HS) with 3:22 remaining in the quarter put the Indians on top for good. The defense made it stand up, posting four sacks after that point and intercepting Bo Cordell twice in the fourth quarter.
Dennis went 18-for-29 for 247 yards and three touchdowns, while also capping the Catawba scoring with a one-yard TD run with 6:58 remaining in the contest. Gerron Bryant (W. Palm Beach, FL/Boynton Beach HS) and Brandon Bunn (Virginia Beach, VA/Kellam HS/Fork Union) each had four catches and a touchdown. Antonio Hall (Greensboro, NC/NE Guilford HS) ran for 65 yards and a score.
Cordell passed for 392 yards for the Pioneers, going 32-for-50 on the day with four touchdowns. Jarrell NeSmith led all players with a career-high 12 receptions for 112 yards, while teammate Deonte’ Gist had six grabs for a career-best 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Tusculum out-gained Catawba in offensive yardage by a 459-373 margin, but the Tribe forced three turnovers in the second half, converting 14 of those into points. Tusculum was also whistled for 13 penalties for 112 yards, including three for 30 yards on Catawba’s opening possession, capped off by a Hall’s two-yard run 1:14 into the contest.
Tusculum answered later in the quarter when Bryant fumbled at midfield and Javon Forsett recovered for the Pioneers. Seven plays later, Cordell found Rashaad Carter on a four-yard scoring strike at the 7:21 mark of the quarter. The point after was missed and Catawba kept the lead at 7-6.
The Catawba Indians added to their lead on the ensuing possession as TC attempted an on-side kick, which was recovered by the Tribe. Catawba would use the short field to set up a 39-yard field goal by Thomas Trexler (Wilmington, NC/New Hanover HS) to move up 10-6. TC wasted little time answering as on the first offensive play of the drive, Cordell completed a 63-yard TD pass to Gist to give Tusculum its first lead of the game at 13-10.
Trexler brought Catawba even with a 36-yard field goal that knotted the game at 13-13 in the final moments of the opening quarter. The Pioneers used a 13-play, 83-yard drive to back on top. Cordell capped the march with a 15-yard pass to Gist with 10:33 remaining before halftime to regain the lead at 20-13. Catawba was stopped on its next two drives just yards from the TC end zone. The first ended with three tries from the one, the second on three tries from the three.
Wilbur Pender (Franklinton, NC/Franklinton HS) got Catawba early momentum in the second half as he stripped the ball from Marcus Foster on TC’s first possession. Two plays later, Dennis completed a 29-yard scoring pass to Bryant in the corner of the end zone to tie the game just 1:24 into the third quarter. Dennis then hooked up with Bunn on the next drive from 30 yards out for a 27-20 lead. For Bunn, it was his SAC-leading ninth touchdown reception.
The Pioneers responded on the ensuing possession as Cordell found junior Calvin Britt on a 20-yard pass to pull Tusculum even at the 5:18 mark of the period. Brian Terwilliger (Wilmington, NC/New Hanover HS) sparked the Indians with a 45-yard kickoff return to the TC 43 and Dennis quickly put Catawba back on top. After a 13-yard pass to Eric Morman (Rockingham, NC/Richmond Sr. HS) to the TC 27, the junior connected with Downs for the go-ahead score.
The Indians sacked Cordell three times on the next TC possession, which ended on downs at the Tribe 27. Cortez Best (Huntersville, NC/N. Mecklenburg HS) would intercept Cordell to set up Catawba’s final score. Dennis completed a 28-yard pass to Levon Curtis (Elon, NC/W. Alamance HS/W. Carolina) and a 20-yard strike to Bunn just short of the end zone at the TC 1. Dennis finished off the drive with a one-yard run to push the Catawba Indians ahead 41-27 with just under seven minutes remaining.
Tusculum would move into Catawba territory, but would again turn the ball over on downs. Catawba would commit its first miscue of the half when Dennis was intercepted in the end zone by Allen Thomas, but Jaspen Gray (Advance, NC/Davie Co. HS) sealed the win on an interception with 2:51 remaining.
Catawba’s Cory Johnson (Fayetteville, NC/Britt HS) and Lakeem Perry (Louisburg, NC/Louisburg HS) finished with 12 and 11 tackles, respectively, while Melquan Fair (Raleigh, NC/E. Wake HS) added eight stops, including three for loss and 2.5 sacks. Brandon Sutton (Snow Hill, NC/Greene Central HS) posted three sacks and four stops for losses.
Tusculum defensive back Derrick Belton recorded a career-high 14 tackles, including six solo hits and one behind the line of scrimmage. Javon Forsett finished with nine tackles and a fumble recovery, while Zachary Norman posted eight stops in the loss.