By Todd Vinyard, Special to CatamountSports.com
Cullowhee, N.C. - Good teams find ways to win. That has undoubtedly been the case for the 2017 Western Carolina Catamounts football squad this year. A family atmosphere and having the "next player up" come through have been key ingredients to the WCU success.
After starting slow before grabbing a 7-3 lead at halftime against ETSU, the Cats (5-2 overall, 3-1 Southern Conference) poured on 42 second-half points on the way to 49-10 victory in front of 8,300 fans at E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field last Saturday afternoon.
"Offensively we had trouble getting something started," said WCU quarterback Tyrie Adams, who had 90 yards rushing and extended his streak of a touchdown pass in each game this year as part of three, third-quarter Catamount touchdowns. "(Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Brad) Glenn told us not all teams have their fastball every game. This week we didn't have our fastball to start. The championship teams find a way. That is what we did."
Finding the WCU offense fastball included redshirt freshman Donnavan Spencer scoring four touchdowns and rushing for 139 yards. He is the third Catamount running back to rush for 100 yards this year joining Detrez Newsome and Corey Holloway -- and the fourth WCU player to eclipse the century mark when adding in Tyrie Adams.
When his time came to be the Catamount to carry the rushing load, Spencer responded. WCU head coach Mark Speir was proud to have his team show the "next man up" attitude his mentor the legendary Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore, who was in Cullowhee last weekend for the game, always talked about with his assistants and squads.
"I was the next guy up, and we preach that often," Spencer said. "It was a great job by the offensive line. I love those boys to death. I told them to give me a small crease, and that would be all I needed. They did."
Each time the Catamounts needed a player to be the step up it happened. Sophomore defensive back John Brannon III had two interceptions, including a 41-yard touchdown return to give WCU a 28-3 lead.
"It is a blessing to show what I could do when I got the opportunity," Brannon said. "On the interception, the receiver ran an inside route, and I had him covered. I saw the ball coming and jumped in front of it and took it to the house."
The Catamounts have been an opportunistic bunch this year. Special teams are part of the WCU taking advantage of opportunities as a blocked punt return for a touchdown by Tyran Reynolds after a Jacques Williams block against ETSU showed. Defensively the squad is getting the ball back to the offense and creating scoring opportunities off turnovers this season.
"Guys are playing fast, and they know what to do and that allows us to make plays," said junior defensive back Marvin Tillman, who has two interceptions and a fumble recovery this year. "The confidence is there. (Defensive Coordinator) Coach (John) Wiley came in and changed the scheme and made it easier. He allowed players to do what they do. When you are there to make the play then make the play."
Along with making the plays WCU head coach Mark Speir talks about a togetherness around the team and program. He spoke about that family feeling after the ETSU victory while holding Carson Miller (pictured above), the young son of WCU head women's soccer coach Chad Miller and WCU Assistant Athletic Director for Academics & Compliance Stacey Miller. The young man also gave good answers about the win to the media along with Speir. The win was good and Spencer was the player of the game Carson said to the delight of Speir and the media members. The family atmosphere also showed in Speir's trip to Florida after the Wofford game to visit WCU signee, Cam Brown.
"I took off after the Wofford loss and drove to see Cam Brown our signee who is battling cancer," Speir said. "Cam is doing good; his body is not. I went to see him about midnight. Spent two hours with him and asked what he would like me to tell the team when I got back. Coach, he said with a big ol' smile on his face while he is fighting cancer; `tell those guys to never give up on the fight because the fun is in the fight.' That is impressive. We are keeping Cam in our prayers."
Speir cited more of the family atmosphere in the commitment by Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher and his wife Susan B. Belcher of $1.23 million to the WCU's "Lead the Way" fundraising campaign to help fund student scholarships.
"Talk about family," Speir said. "Our Chancellor comes out this week and pledges $1.23 million dollars to our students. He is not a Chancellor looking to be here and gone. He is in it for the long haul. That is the typical attitude we have from our athletic director Randy Eaton, our support people, and our professors. I'm so happy for this whole program, this community, and this university. Love for each other like that wins. Western North Carolina is a huge part of it. We are going to enjoy it tonight and get ready for VMI. We better be ready for them, or they will embarrass us. That is how this league is."
Western Carolina travels to Lexington, Va., this weekend for another Southern Conference road test against the VMI Keydets (0-7, 0-4 SoCon). Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Foster Stadium. The game will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network with a 12:30 p.m. airtime, with VMI's video production available on ESPN3.