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Catamount Football Weekly: at North Carolina

Western Carolina hits the road for its second test against a NCAA FBS opponent this season, visiting North Carolina on Saturday.
Nov. 14, 2017

Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina and its high-powered offensive attack and opportunistic defense travel to Chapel Hill this Saturday, Nov. 18 for its first-ever appearance at Kenan Stadium, and the first meeting with the flagship school of the University system as the Catamounts square-off with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Kickoff of the regular season finale is scheduled for 3:00 pm.

Saturday's game can be seen on the ACC Network Extra (WatchESPN, ESPN3.com). Fans can also follow the game at North Carolina on the Catamount Sports Network with air time of the Pepsi Pregame Show at 2:00 pm ahead of the 3:00 pm kickoff. The "Voice of the Catamounts," Gary Ayers will be joined by Daniel Hooker, Jeff Bryson, and Greg McLamb on the call. Fans can listen to the CSN broadcast locally on WWCU-FM Power 90dot5 in Cullowhee; 540 AM WRGC in Sylva; 104.9 FM & 1050 AM WFSC in Franklin; WISE Sports Radio 1310 / 970 AM and 97.3 FM in Asheville/Canton; and with live streaming audio available online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can also get game day updates through social media on Twitter following the handle, @Catamounts.

Western Carolina (7-4) looks to keep its hopes of halting a 34-year drought of making the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs alive as it invades "Blue Heaven" on Saturday afternoon looking to impress the NCAA FCS selection committee. With seven Division I victories, WCU sits on the post-season bubble, at best tied for third in the Southern Conference but in fourth-place entering the weekend, half a game behind Samford with the Catamounts owning the tie-breaker after the 38-34 win in Cullowhee back on Sept. 23.

Samford (7-3, 5-2 SoCon) hosts the streaking Furman Paladins (7-3, 6-1 SoCon) -- winners of seven-straight -- on Saturday afternoon in Birmingham. A Furman win would give the Paladins a share of the SoCon title and likely lock them into the post-season field, while a Samford victory would create a two-way tie in the standings for the runner-up spot and likely secure a post-season berth for the Bulldogs.

 

 

In a season that has seen several streaks busted for Western Carolina, Saturday's game presents yet another chance at ending two more lengthy skids. In addition to looking for a chance to end the 34-year absence from the FCS post-season, the Catamounts are in search of their first-ever victory over a NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent -- a winless streak that has reached 53-consecutive losses after the 41-18 loss in the Islands to Hawai'i to open the 2017 season.

Earlier this year, WCU halted a seven-game road winless drought with the 42-27 win at Gardner-Webb for its first of four streaks busted this season. It's week four win over then No. 17 Samford squashed a 27 game winless drought against FCS ranked opponents that dated back to 2006. The Catamounts also halted an eight-game slide in the series with Chattanooga, scoring their first win at Finley Stadium since 2005. And finally, WCU halted a seven-game slump as an FCS ranked team when the 21st-ranked Catamounts defeated ETSU in Cullowhee -- the program's first win while ranked since 1994.

Western Carolina enters the week with one of the top offensive units at the NCAA FCS level, ranked 19th in the country with a SoCon-leading 379 points - second with 34.5 points per game average. WCU ranks 17th in the nation in total offense with a league-best 453.0 yards per game that includes the 12th-best rushing attack (238.3 yds/gm, 4th in SoCon) and 214.7 passing yards per game (2nd in SoCon, 50th in FCS).

On the defensive side of the football, the Catamounts have been very stingy against the pass including holding three seasonal opponents under 100-yards through the air. WCU leads the SoCon in passing defense at 153.1 yards per game -- the fourth-best average in the NCAA FCS. The Catamounts are tied for first in the league with 13 interceptions with one returned for a touchdown, and are tied for a SoCon-best 23 takeaways including 10 fumbles -- two recovered for touchdowns.

WCU sixth-year head coach Mark Speir talks about the highly-anticipated match-up with the NCAA FBS Tar Heels, while also reflecting on his 2017 senior class and their final regular season home game last weekend against Mercer in this week's "Catamount Football Weekly."

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