Catamounts return to the gridiron in search of a championship

Catamount offense breaks from huddle facing off against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Photo by Elijah Lautzenheiser.

The Catamount football team is aiming high this season with hopes that the grueling days in the Cullowhee heat will lead to a championship this season.  

At halftime of the spring scrimmage on April 15, Head Coach Kerwin Bell set a “championship or bust” standard for the season. For the rest of the season, Catamount fans will wait to see if Bell’s sentiment reigns true.  

Last season the Catamounts boasted a winning record of 6-5 beating Charleston Southern, Presbyterian, VMI, Wofford, ETSU and Chattanooga. The team is looking for redemption against Samford, Mercer, Furman and The Citadel.  

At the end of the season, WCU finished 5th in the SoCon rankings following Samford, Furman, Chattanooga and Mercer – all of which, besides Chattanooga, beat the Catamounts.  

Head Coach Kerwin Bell sees improvements from last season. 

“I believe we are better on defense than last year,” Bell said. “[We] have more depth through the team going into this season.”

Samaurie Dukes looks downfield for a hole on a kick return. Photo by Elijah Lautzenheiser.

Last season, WCU’s offense stole the show, earning 5,339 yards, 485.4 per game – 6th in the FCS. Defensively, the Catamounts finished 71st in the FCS.  

 In 2022, the Catamounts scored an average of 32 points per game. Peculiarly, teams that faced the Catamounts also averaged 32 points, giving WCU a zero-point differential on the season.  

WCU started the 2023 season traveling to Little Rock, Arkansas to face off against the Razorbacks. The Cats quickly fell into a deficit they couldn’t come back from. They lost 56-13. 

“We just didn’t give it our best shot, you know?” Bell said. “I thought we played very hard and violent like we wanted to do. We really played hard and just wanted to have a chance to hold up against those guys.” 

Following WCU’s first drive that resulted in a three and out, Arkansas scored a 65-yard touchdown on their second play of the game. The Catamounts first three drives were three and outs. Their fourth drive ended in an interception.  

In all, the Catamounts lost 5 turnovers to the Razorbacks.  

On a positive note, WCU’s run defense shined. Arkansas was only able to average 2.9 yards per carry. Raheim Sanders, widely viewed as a top-five running back in the country, gained only 42 yards on the ground on 15 carries.  

If WCU’s defense can continue to stop the run against the opposition, it could spell wins down the road.

The Catamounts returned to Whitmire Stadium Sept. 9 facing off against the Samford Bulldogs. Photo by Mackenzie Atkinson.

On Saturday, Sept. 9 the Catamounts hosted the Samford Bulldogs for “White out Whitmire”, the first home game of the year.  

Going into the game, the Bulldogs were coming off one of their best years in school history after winning the SoCon and losing in the quarterfinals to North Dakota State.  

After a nearly 5-hour lightning delay, the Catamounts scored 30 unanswered points to finish the game with a victory, 30-7.  

The Catamounts returned their offensive dominance from a season ago posting 546 yards during the game while the defense showed signs of improvement, especially considering the high-powered Samford offense that had 560 yards of offense just one week ago. The defense held the Bulldogs to just 361 total yards.  

With the statement win versus Samford, the Catamounts should see themselves in the driver seat atop the SoCon and a top 25 ranking in the FCS coaches poll.  

With a big year ahead, WCU Athletic Director Alex Gary is thrilled about the future of the football program.  

Schedule release – Credit: Catamount Athletics.

“People are excited about the direction of our program,” Gary said. “I think that continual progression from four wins in year one, six wins in year two and hopefully more than six wins in year three it’s created excitement.” 

Record-breaking ticket sales show fans’ excitement for the upcoming season as the 2023 season set a high record for season-ticket sales for the second year in a row, leading to the largest revenue in WCU Athletics history.