The Western Carolina Catamount football team has had a very disappointing start to the 2021 season. The Catamounts came into this year hopeful, with new head coach Kerwin Bell stepping into his first D1 head coaching job. However, the Catamounts have failed to live up to expectations, starting the season with four straight losses in an eleven-game season. The bright spots of this team are heavily outweighed by the struggles the dark spots have shown.
The Catamounts started the season with a 31-28 loss to Eastern Kentucky University in their home opener on September 4th. The Catamounts made a great effort in a comeback but ultimately fell short of victory in the 4th quarter. It was clear that quarterback Rogan Wells was an exciting piece to the Catamounts, as the senior is 20th in the NCAA for passing yards.
Things took a major turn for the worse when the Catamounts traveled to Norman, Oklahoma to play the Oklahoma Sooners at Memorial Stadium. Oklahoma was the 4th ranked team in the NCAA and was projected to win by at least fifty points. Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, a 2021 Heisman trophy favorite, only played in the first half and threw for 243 yards and 5 touchdowns against a very overwhelmed Catamount defense. The Catamounts only managed to get 178 total offensive yards, adding to a very disappointing day. The Catamounts also gave up 3 turnovers while Oklahoma went perfect throughout the game. WCU’s defense didn’t play any better, giving up a total of 624 yards and 10 total touchdowns. WCU ended up being demolished by the Sooners in a 76-0 blowout.
After an absolute beatdown by the Sooners, the Catamounts had their second home game of the year against Samford. The Catamounts defense stepped up in the first 3 quarters, forcing Samford quarterback Liam Welch to throw 4 interceptions throughout the game. Once again, Rogan Wells stepped up for the Catamounts, with 321 passing yards and 3 passing touchdowns, two of those to freshman wide receiver Raphael Williams. The Catamounts jumped up to a 31-21 lead with 3 minutes and 52 seconds left in the third quarter. From there, the Catamount defense let up 21 unanswered points due to three rushing touchdowns by three different Samford players. The Catamounts offense also seemed to sputter late in the game with Rogan Wells ending up with 3 interceptions to go along with his otherwise impressive day. Wells seems to be the only sense of offense the Catamounts have had since their first game when running back TJ Jones ran for 115 yards and 1 touchdown against Eastern Kentucky. Both Samford and Western Carolina ended the game with 4 turnovers and 8 punts each, making this another disappointing loss for WCU late in the game.
The Catamounts then went back on the road to face Gardner-Webb, a team that had one win and two losses coming into the game. The game was close going into halftime, with Western Carolina up due to Rogan Wells once again putting on a clinic for the Catamounts. Wells finished the game with a combined 540 total offensive yards and 3 total touchdowns. In the second half, the Catamounts jumped up to a 34-24 lead with 8 minutes and 9 seconds left in the third quarter, a situation they were in against Samford. Once again, the Catamount defense seemed to play as if the game was already won, as Gardner-Webb scored 28 unanswered points to give them the 52-34 win at the Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. Rogan Wells had 2 interceptions, with one turning into a 36-yard touchdown for Gardner-Webb defensive back Jamari Brown.
The Catamounts have only had one good thing going for them this season in the form of Rogan Wells’ ability to rack up offensive yards. Wells has 1,109 passing yards, 6 passing touchdowns, 277 rushing yards, and 2 rushing touchdowns on the season. While those numbers are impressive, his 7 interceptions on the season rank 64th in the entire NCAA for D1 football programs. The Catamounts as a whole have accumulated 14 total turnovers throughout the season, while their defense has forced 8 turnovers over the course of 4 games. The major concern is the execution in the second half by both the Catamount offense and the defense. Western Carolina has been outscored 104-50 in the second half through 4 games this season. The high amount of turnovers by the offense has forced the defense to stay on the field longer than usual, causing them to get tired and play lazy in the second half. The inability to close games is something that the Catamounts need to figure out, whether that’s by coach Kerwin Bell changing things up or the offense finding a way to limit their turnovers. With a game against Chattanooga coming up on Oct. 2, the Catamounts need to find a way to get a win to avoid an 0-11 season.
The disappointing start to the Catamounts 2021 campaign can be placed on multiple people’s shoulders, yet it will all boil down to coach Kerwin Bell if there isn’t an immediate change. The late-game struggles are something that, no matter what team you are, can bring your team to lose any game that they play in. If the offense can’t limit its turnovers and the defense continues to play lazy in the second half, the Catamounts may be in danger of going winless in Kerwin Bell’s first season as head coach. This game against Chattanooga could be a turning point in multiple different ways, either it is a start to a huge momentum swing in favor of the Catamounts, or it could be a trip to the coaching hot seat for Bell. Either way, the importance of this game on Saturday, Oct. 2 at Finley Stadium is insurmountable to every player or coach on this Catamount team.