MARS HILL. N.C. – The Lions football team won a thriller over SAC rival Catawba College by a 39-33 margin Saturday afternoon in the Ammons Family Athletic Center and Meares Stadium. Mars Hill improved to 1-3 overall and 1-1 in the South Atlantic Conference. The Indians fell to 1-2 on the season, 0-1 in the league.
Craig Rucker led the Lions with 11 catches for 174 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score with 30 seconds left in regulation. Rucker also rushed for 33 yards in the victory. Jaques Buchannon rushed 26 times for 227 yards and one score averaging 8.6 yards per carry. The carries, rushing yards and yards per game average were all career highs for Buchannon. Austin Brown threw for 248 yards completing 21-36 passes. Malcolm Means led the Lions' defense with four solo tackles, an interception and two pass break-ups. One of his pass break-ups stopped a certain touchdown for Catawba and his interception as time expired in the Lions' endzone sealed the win for Mars Hill. Trey Giles followed with 10 tackles (6 solo) and one tackle-for-loss. Carl Robertgeau tallied nine tackles (8 solo) while Tray Smith recorded eight tackles (6 solo). The Lions accumulated 602 yards of total offense, 354 yards on the ground and 248 in the air. The Lions set season highs in rushing yardage and total offense in the victory.
Reid Carlton led Catawba with 363 passing yards and three touchdown strikes completing 25-42 attempts. Jourdan Osinskie was on the receiving end of eight of those passes for 100 yards. Kenyatta Greene rushed for 79 yards and had 89 return yards on special teams. Jeremiah Ferguson led the Indians defense with 11 tackles (6 solo) and one tackle-for-loss. Mike Miller followed with 10 stops.
Tanner Fox put the first points on the board in the contest, hitting a 22-yard field goal with 10:29 left in the first quarter to give the Lions a 3-0 lead. Lee Brackman tied the contest at 3-all with a 27-yard field goal for the Indians with 6:18 left in the opening period. Fox nailed another field goal with 21 seconds left in the first quarter from 27 yards out to give Mars Hill a 6-3 advantage.
Buchannon broke loose for a 76-yard touchdown run with 10:20 remaining in the second quarter to extend the Lions lead to 12-3 after a Fox's kick was blocked.
Carlton found Greene on a 27-yard touchdown pass with 6:08 left in the second period to trim the Lions lead to 12-9 after Brackman's PAT kick failed. Christopher Roberts scampered in from six yards out to cap off a 12-play, 75-yard drive and give MHU a 19-9 lead with 1:27 left in the first half. Once again, the Indians answered, driving 80 yards on eight plays to trim the Lions' lead to 19-16 after Carlton four-yard run to bring Catawba within three points of the Lions at the intermission.
The teams traded scores in the third stanza. Brackman hit a 40-yard field goal with 12:10 left in the third quarter before Brown found Rucker for a 24-yard scoring pass with 6:01 left in the period to give MHU a 26-19 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
A five-yard reception by Chylon Thomas knotted the contest at 26-all with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter. Rucker and Brown hooked up again on a 26-yard pass play to give MHU the lead (33-26) with 2:08 on the clock. Mars Hill could not keep Catawba at bay as they scored on a 38-yard pass from Carlton to Will Sweeper with 1:34 left in the game to tie the game (33-33). With 30 ticks left in regulation, Rucker hauled in a 34-yard pass from Brown to account for the game winning score (39-33). The PAT kick was blocked and Catawba still had one last chance to win the game. The Indians drove to the Lions 36-yardline and had one final play. Means sealed the win for the Lions picking off Carlton's pass in the endzone as time expired to make the final tally 39-33 in favor of the hosts.
Mars Hill will return to action at Limestone next Saturday. Kickoff in Gaffney, S.C. is set for 4 p.m.