WCU pours down 42 points on Chowan to win season-opener

As Western Carolina University kicked off the 2006 football season on the last night of August, the only thing that was for certain was that Chowan was going to get massacred. The weather was not cooperating at all as it poured down rain all day leading up to the game and all during the game. As a result, the fans weren’t showing up as there was only a turnout of 3,014 which would about be a full house at Chowan’s tiny Garrison Football Stadium that holds 3,500, but was a less than stellar turnout at the 13,742-seat E.J. Whitmire Stadium. Luckily, WCU did its part in the game as they just rolled over Chowan 42-0 to kick the season off with a bang. While running backs Darius Fudge and Mike Malone both put up 90-plus yards rushing apiece, the real star of the game was wide receiver Eddie Cohen. Cohen struggled mightily last year with injuries after he was expected to become the go-to receiver. It looks like Cohen is healthy again and playing better than ever as he caught four passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He was twisting and turning the Chowan defensive backs around and making them look like they had cement shoes on their feet. After kicking off to begin the game, WCU held Chowan to three and out to get the ball back. Western pushed the ball down the field but Jonathan Parsons missed a 43-yard field goal attempt as it looked like Hurricane Ernesto had more to do with the miss than the Chowan defense. Either way, Western got the ball back quickly as Chowan quarterback Sam Williams fumbled on the next drive after pitching the ball to a phantom running back. From there it was like clockwork for the Catamounts, three carries by Fudge for 16 yards to soften up the defense and then 26 yards over the top from Bennett Swygert to Michael Hines for a touchdown. With 7:16 left in the first quarter, it was 7-0 Catamounts and the blowout was on. After another three and out by the Hawks, WCU got the ball back on their own 37. This time Western decided to enjoy the game a little before scoring again as it took them a grand total of eight plays to put some more points on the board. Fudge gained 13 yards on two carries sandwiched between two incomplete passes, before Swygert hit Cohen for 27 yards. With the ball on the Chowan 25, Fudge ran for three yards, and then Swygert connected with Clemson-transfer Chris Jefferson for a gain of 17. Fudge finally put the finishing touches on the drive with an 8-yard carry for a touchdown. Things got a little exciting on the next drive, as facing fourth and one, Chowan trotted out the punt team. Punter Pat McKinnon dropped the snap but picked up the slippery ball and ran like the wind for six yards and a first down. But on the next play, Chowan basically punted the ball as Williams threw an interception to Carlton Bailey who returned the ball 44 yards to the Hawks’ 36 yard line. A penalty flag pushed the ball back 10 yards but it didn’t really matter. Four plays later it was touchdown Western as Eddie Cohen caught two passes on the short drive, first a 29-yarder and then a 15-yarder for a touchdown. After another three-and-out by Chowan (I guess they forgot to use their best offensive weapon, McKinnon) the Catamounts got the ball back, and you can probably guess what happened next. Yes, a touchdown by the Catamounts. Before getting that 28th point, though, the Catamounts savored the blowout by taking eight plays and about four and a half minutes to score. Fudge had 4 carries on the drive for 29 yards before bowling in for the touchdown on a 3-yard run. With a 28-0 deficit and it raining cats and dogs, Chowan Head Coach Lorick Atkinson probably felt like the loneliest man in the whole stadium. Luckily for Coach Atkinson, the Hawks would finally do something on offense on the next drive. Jack Ross ran for five yards and then Williams got 10, another three by Ross and then six more by Spruce Lee. Williams would gain two on the next play and a Catamount personal foul would put 15 more yards on the end of the play. Facing first and ten on the Western 33-yard line, the Hawks kept hammering as it was Ross for six, Jake Thorne for two, Williams for three, and then Ross for three more. Brandon Myrick picked up a yard next and then Williams got two yards. A timeout left 38 seconds on the clock and Chowan with a chance for momentum going into halftime, but on the next play it was super-fast Bruce Lee picking off a Hawks’ pass on the 12-yard line to end to the drive and the half. Hey, it’s about little improvements, right Coach Atkinson? Not much happened in the second half as the Cats looked like they had just decided not to score on Chowan anymore and let the Hawks off easy. Senior standout safety Mitchell Dukes picked off a pass in the third quarter before taking it back 16 yards for a touchdown. Then in the fourth quarter Mike “Fastest Man in the SoCon” Malone trotted in six yards for a touchdown to put the final points on the board in a 42-0 drubbing of Chowan by the Catamounts. Without quarterback Justin Clarke, who was sitting out with a shoulder injury, the senior Swygert got the start. The South Carolina-transfer only completed 50% of his passes for 159 yards but did throw two touchdown passes. The tailbacks looked particularly good as Malone had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, while slippery star tailback Darius Fudge had 17 carries for 93 yards and two touchdowns and looked much stronger running between the tackles than he did last year. Besides Cohen, junior receiver Michael Hines also had a strong night catching the ball with 3 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. The rebuilt defense played strong as they held Chowan to only 176 yards of total offense, forced 5 turnovers, and even more important tossed a goose-egg up on the scoreboard. The defense was led in the effort by Shelton Gaffney. The 6’0″-230-lb. senior linebacker from Gaffney, SC, had six tackles and an interception. Dukes, Lee, and Bailey also had interceptions for the Cats, while sophomore Travis Hill led the team in tackles with seven. Freshman linebacker Kadeem Morgan from Asheville recovered a fumble, while Randy Birch was the only Catamount to record a sack. In the end, though the 42-0 victory may seem impressive, the truth is it should have been expected. Chowan is a very small school (enrollment: 900) and only won two games last year at the Division III level. Along the way last year, they lost by 14 to Newport News Apprentice (a ship-building college) and by 36 to North Greenville (a Bible college). While the win is positive, it is not a real big deal as the only thing that was really impressive was the fact that the defense didn’t allow any points; that is impressive no matter who you are playing. The next game will be on September 16 at home against Eastern Kentucky. The Athletics Hall of Fame game will start at 6:00 and will be the Cats’ first test against a real opponent this year. Eastern Kentucky was ranked 20th in the preseason I-AA poll. That game should show us quite a bit more about the Catamounts.