Bears drop Catawba, end 50-year playoff drought

Lenoir-Rhyne shared the South Atlantic Conference football title in 2011 with Mars Hill and were left standing at the altar in the end for a postseason bid.

One season later, the Bears played the role of blushing bride.

Lenoir-Rhyne racked up 513 rushing yards on its way to a 44-14 victory over rival Catawba College on Saturday at Moretz Stadium in Hickory.

With the win, the Bears (8-2, 6-1) clinch the 2012 South Atlantic Conference title and head to the NCAA Div. II playoffs for the first time since 1962.

"It was a very hard fought football game" said Bears head coach Mike Houston. "These guys pull for each other."

Lenoir-Rhyne and Catawba remained scoreless after the first quarter with the only big play in the stanza — an interception of Indians quarterback B.J. Sherrill by Bears defender Chris Christian.

Lenoir-Rhyne running back Graham Duncan opening scoring in the game on a 34-yard run in the second quarter, and L-R quarterback Reuben Haynes made it a 14-0 lead after his 53-yard scoring run.

Sherrill got the Indians on the board just before the half with a one-yard run of his own, but his scoring play would not be the last of the second quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, Jarrod Spears weaved in and out of traffic 95 yards for a touchdown. The kick return play gave L-R a 20-7 lead at halftime after a missed extra point.

"That kickoff return for a touchdown was huge" Haynes said. "Without that return, we would not have had the momentum moving forward in the second half."

The Indians (4-7, 2-5) continued to struggle offensively in the second half after being harassed by the L-R defensive front.

"We just pretty much forced Sherrill to step up and make throws," said L-R defensive lineman Brandon Martin. "We forced Sherrill to rush his passes, but the important thing there is we kept him in the pocket, making it easier for us to get to him by the second half."

Houston said he was proud of the effort on defense by his squad, which allowed 55 rushing yards by Catawba.

"We did a good defensively keeping their offense under wraps," he said.

Catawba scored only one touchdown in the second half on a five-yard run by Sherrill.

The Bears scored four times in the second half, including a 24-yard field goal by Zach Neumann, a nine-yard run by Jarrod Spears and a one-yard run by Haynes.

Teverrius Jones' 27-yard run closed out the Bears' 42nd win all-time versus Catawba College.

"These guys are all pulling for one another on this team to be successful," Houston said. "I'm just so proud of this team, and what they have accomplished this season."

The Bears' playoff fate will be determined when the brackets are released officially on Saturday at 5 p.m.