Catamount Football Looks to Rebound Saturday at Wofford
As the calendar flips to November, the Western Carolina football team tries to halt a two-game seasonal slide and keep its postseason hopes alive on Saturday afternoon as the Catamounts travel down Interstate 26 to Spartanburg, S.C., to face the Wofford Terriers in Southern Conference action at Gibbs Stadium.
Western Carolina (5-3, 3-2 SoCon) is ranked 16th in the latest Stats Perform FCS Top 25 and 20th in the AFCA Coaches Poll unveiled Monday. Wofford (0-8, 0-5 SoCon) has struggled this season, suffering through its slowest start to a season since 1946 and the Terriers are mired amidst a nine-game winless drought dating back to last season entering Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on ESPN+ (paid subscription required) with live audio from the Catamount Sports Network beginning with the Pepsi Tailgate Show at 2 p.m. Fans across Western North Carolina can hear the broadcast locally on five CSN affiliates frequencies: in Sylva, 105.7 FM and 540 AM WRGC "The River"; 104.9 FM and 1050 AM WFSC in Franklin; Rewind 100.3 FM "Carolina's Greatest Hits" in Asheville; and free through live streaming audio online at CatamountSports.com.
Those who can’t make the trip to Spartanburg for the game are invited to gather with other Catamount fans at Rodgers Bros (2942 Old Cullowhee Road) in Cullowhee, the official watch party host location for WCU Athletics, to catch the ESPN+ broadcast.
Fans can also follow the game with live stats accessible online at CatamountSports.com and with timely in-game updates on Twitter using @Catamounts and @CatamountsFB.
Since winning five straight games this year – and collecting eight wins in a row over NCAA FCS opponents dating back to last season – the Catamounts have endured back-to-back losses at home against playoff contenders, Furman (29-17) and Mercer (45-38). And despite the consecutive setbacks, WCU had its chances in both games. The Catamounts rallied back from a pair of 13-point deficits against the Paladins to pull to within a score and clawed back out of a 28-7 hole to pull to within three in the fourth quarter most recently against Mercer.
WCU’s offense continues to lead the NCAA FCS in output at 502.3 yards per game – the only team nationally to still average over 500 yards of total offense. The Catamounts continue to boast the nation’s eighth-best scoring offense (37.9 ppg), fourth in passing offense (314.5 yds/gm), and are third nationally with 208 first downs. Conversely, the Terriers have struggled offensively, averaging just 12.1 points per game and 12 first downs per game on just 242.5 yards of offense per game – ninth of nine teams in the SoCon.
Despite the struggles, the Terriers have continued to battle in each game this year. Two of the squad’s eight losses have been in one-possession games – a 23-20 loss to Presbyterian and a 17-14 road loss at VMI. Wofford also slowed then fourth-ranked William & Mary, limiting the Tribe to three second-half points in a 23-6 defeat and carried a 13-13 tie into the fourth quarter at home against then No. 22 Chattanooga before faltering against the Mocs, 23-13.
Missing two key starters on offense including the SoCon’s top-rated rusher – sophomore Desmond Reid – the Catamount offense has failed to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark in the past two games, the first time that’s occurred in three years under the Kade and Kerwin Bell offensive system. Even with consecutive games below 100 yards on the ground – 84 against Furman and 86 against Mercer – the Catamount ground game continues to pace the SoCon at 187.8 yards per game.
WCU quarterback Cole Gonzales enters the weekend after a career-best performance last week against Mercer. The Ocala, Fla., product completed a career-best 32 passes for a career-high 388 yards while also matching his career-high mark with five touchdown passes, equaling the total in four quarters that he established in two in the early-season win over Charleston Southern. RB Branson Adams was his favorite target last week, catching a career-high eight passes out of the backfield in his first career start, while senior WR David White Jr. gave WCU its second, 100-yard receiver on the year with a career-best 113 yards. Freshman WR Corey Washington is the only other Catamount to surpass the receiving century mark on the year with 108 yards against CSU.
Senior TE Ajay Belanger became the third Catamount to collect two receiving TDs in a game marking the fourth time this year – joining sophomore AJ Colombo (vs. Charleston Southern) and classmate Censere Lee (at EKU, at Chattanooga). Belanger also gave WCU its fifth interception on the year, moonlighting on defense in a prevent formation at the end of the first half against the Bears.
One of just nine NCAA FCS teams still searching for a victory in 2023, Wofford enters Saturday’s game coming off its bye week and celebrates its Homecoming.
The Catamounts have won two straight games in the overall head-to-head series with Wofford after rallying last year for a 36-29 home win over the Terriers on a rain-soaked Homecoming Saturday in Cullowhee. WCU pushed across the game-winning score inside the game’s final three minutes. The two squads meet for the 45th time on Saturday with WCU trailing all-time 16-28 that includes just five wins in 21 games played in Spartanburg. WCU dominated in its most recent trip to Gibbs Stadium as former QB Rogan Wells threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns in just over two-quarters of work in the 41-21 win that represented WCU’s largest margin of victory since a 24-0 win back in 2005.
Saturday is just the second time WCU has faced Wofford as a nationally-ranked team. The only other meeting came in 2017 when the then No. 5 Terriers escaped with a 35-28 home victory in overtime over the 22nd-ranked Catamounts in Spartanburg. Donnavan Spencer scored the game-tying TD inside the final three minutes, but the Terriers scored on their second play of OT and held off upset-minded WCU with an interception in the endzone on WCU’s possession, picking off a third pass on the day.
The Catamounts seek their fourth-straight road victory this season – and fifth-consecutive against NCAA FCS opponents dating back to the end of the 2022 season. WCU can also match its seasonal win total from 2022 at six – the most under head coach Kerwin Bell in Cullowhee – with a victory at Wofford on Saturday.
Game 9: Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023 • 3:00 p.m. Location: Spartanburg, S.C. (Gibbs Stadium – 13,000) Records: #20/16 Western Carolina (5-3, 3-2 SoCon) at Wofford (0-8, 0-5 SoCon) Live Stats – Wofford's Sidearm Stats BROADCAST INFORMATION: TV Stream: ESPN+ (subscription required) PBP: Jim Noble; Color: Thom Henson; Sideline: Van Hipp Radio/Audio: Catamount Sports Network PBP: Gary Ayers; Color: Daniel Hooker Producer: Jeff Bryson CSN Affiliates: Sylva – 105.7 FM / 540 AM WRGC Franklin – 104.9 FM / 1050 AM WFSC Asheville – Rewind 100.3 WTMT-HD2 Online: CatamountSports.com