Head coach Zac Lendyak was surrounded by his full Catawba Ridge football team. A good smattering of them were on crutches or wearing slings, but every one of them, he said, gave their all in Friday’s Senior Night home game.
Catawba Ridge, who finished the season at 1-9 and 0-5 in Region 3-4A, lost its season finale 52-10 to region foe Northwestern in a matchup that meant little to the region standings, but had plenty of meaning for the 11 Copperhead seniors who will graduate this coming year.
Lendyak told his team that they had given the best effort and attitude of the season during Friday night’s game.
“They gave everything they had for four years,” Lendyak said. “It says a lot about who they are.”
Northwestern quarterback Finley Polk tallied 303 passing yards and tossed four touchdowns on 16-of-24 passing to spur the Trojans win at The Pit. Receiver Daniel Caldwell led the Trojans in yards with two touchdowns and 115 receiving yards.
Catawba Ridge’s DJ Latimer ended his senior year with plenty of effort under center. The senior finished with 104 passing yards in 11-of-20 passing and 48 rushing yards. Tight end Brady Ambrose led the Copperheads with 53 receiving yards.
While Catawba Ridge’s season is now over, Northwestern will be a No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs. The Trojans, who reached the state title game last season, will next host the No. 4 seed out of Region II in a first-round game Friday, Nov. 3 at District III Stadium in Rock Hill.
“We knew there was a large task at hand, playing this team,” Lendyak said. “I wanted them to finish and give me 48 minutes. If we could say we played Catawba Ridge football from start to end, that would mean a lot.”
Ambrose piped up in the middle of the post-game interview, telling reporters that regardless of the score or the record, he believed Lendyak was the best coach “on and off the field.”
Northwestern scored touchdowns on each of its opening three drives to start the game.
The Trojans drove 50 yards in just 56 seconds on seven plays before Polk found running back Turbo Richard for a 14-yard pitch and catch.
Following a second failed Catawba Ridge drive, Northwestern started a drive from its own 11. But Polk found receiver Jaylen Burris for a breakout 49-yard catch over the middle before Polk saw Jayden Nichols in the flats for a 22-yard catch where the junior shed a tackle and dashing into the end zone.
Catawba Ridge finally saw its offense pick up yardage heading into the second quarter. Latimer found Jordan Gilliam for a 13-yard catch to drive into the Trojans’ red zone. But the drive stalled inside the 10, and kicker Camden Gifford converted a chip-shot 23-yard field goal.
Polk and the Trojans’ offense began again on their own 48 with 7:18 left in the first half. However, tempers boiled over when a Northwestern player was spotted throwing a punch at a Catawba Ridge player.
The scuffle didn’t affect Catawba Ridge’s offense. Polk found receiver Kameron Vance for a 24-yard scoring catch just two plays later to extend the lead to 21-3.
Northwestern kicker Matthew Fish later converted a 22-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to extend the lead to 24-3.
Northwestern totaled 210 offensive yards in the first half on just 25 plays. Catawba Ridge totaled 11 first-half rushing yards on 18 attempts.
Northwestern then scored four third-quarter touchdowns to extend the lead. Zilon Arnold scored from three yards out to cap off a 53-yard drive that lasted three plays.
Caldwell caught the first of his two scoring receptions, first from 40 yards out to extend the lead to 38-3 with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
Catawba Ridge finally scored a touchdown in the third quarter when Latimer broke free on a 40-yard scramble, setting up a Brayden Wasik to score from a yard out.
But Northwestern followed that up with two more quick scores, including one on a quarterback keeper by backup Greer Hopkins and another to Caldwell, this time from 61 yards out.
The running clock began just before the end of the third quarter.
Lendyak said four of his 11 seniors suffered season-ending injuries during the season, which played a large role in Catawba Ridge’s struggles this year. But he was proud of his team’s mentality and attitude, even when times got tough.
“I hope we taught them something in this program that will allow them to get up and keep fighting in life,” Lendyak said. “It could have been easy to shut it down, but they fought and played hard. We kept working.”