There are big games in every football season, but if you have a level of success, there is always the game on the horizon that turns into a huge game. That’s what Pulaski County has Friday night in Roanoke as the Cougars take on the Class 5 Patriots of Patrick Henry.
This will be the 44th meeting between the two schools. PH is the most frequent opponent in the history of PCHS. The Cougars lead the series, 26-17, but the Patriots have won five of the last six and won a hard fought battle last season, 17-7. Pulaski Co. enters the fray at 6-2 on the season, PH 5-3.
Both teams have firepower. PH quarterback Grant Jennings has passed for over 1,500 yards. His two top receivers Leroy Thomas and Daniel Gray have caught almost 60 passes for over 1,000 yards. Brandon Smith returns at running back and has over 700 rushing yards. PH averages 260 across the front on both offense and defense.
“They have people that can make things happen,” said Cougar mentor Stephen James this week. “They can run it, they can throw it. Jennings is a pass first quarterback and he has people to get the ball too. Smith is a hard-nosed running back. We must defend well. We must be in the right places. We must tackle well. Our defense will be tested.”
Cougar quarterback Kade Akers’ passing numbers match up well against about anybody this season. He is well on his way to shattering the PCHS record book with 1,852 yards, and 18 touchdowns. His receiving corp of E.J. Horton, Kellen Dalton, Mason Clark, and Braeden Blevins is also a record breaking crew.
“You never know about a game until you get into it,” says James. “Sometimes what looks like a shootout turns out to be something totally different. We thought we would have a game like that last season, and it wasn’t that at all. But both teams can make plays. The trick is to be the team that makes the most of them.”
The Cougars enjoyed an open date last week. James thinks it should help his charges. “We had been going a long time. All the pre-season work in August, two multi-team scrimmages, then eight straight games, that’s a lot of weeks without any down time. The kids needed a break. We gave them some time away, relaxed a bit. Some bumps and bruises have healed, and our physical health is good. I think the week off helped us,” said James.
If someone had told James he would be operating an offense that’s about to break every career passing record at PCHS in just one season back in March he wouldn’t have believed them.
“Sure wouldn’t have. But then Kade moved to the county, and the makeup of our team became different, and we have some kids that really fit into the passing game. It’s a team thing, and our style of offense this season fits our team. I’ve always been a run first coach, and still am, but the kids you have on your team and what they do best dictate what you do as a coach, and this style of offense suits this team. Kade also works very hard. He’s an intelligent kid. He works at his craft. He’s big, has arm and hand strength, and does a good job of getting the ball to the right receiver, but as good as it’s been, it can still get better. He’ll make a mistake every now and then and he knows it, and he’ll throw off his back foot some, but he can still get better and he will.”
The Cougar defense will be led as usual by its two inside linebackers, seniors Reymon Williams and Alex Akers. “Those two guys are showing leadership, they’re intelligent football players, are usually in the right places, and make tackles. They are certainly our leaders, but against PH we will need a total defensive effort. Our young secondary will be tested. Our front will be tested. We need to be up to the challenge. Much is at stake, acquiring power points and a playoff opportunity could be in the balance. We need to play a clean game, no turnovers, no crucial mistakes. We really need to play well against PH. If we do, we’ll have a good chance to win,” said James.
The lineup for Pulaski County will feature Jaxon Callahan at center, Cody Talbert and Logan Fox will be the guards, Chandler Dunnigan and Brody Fields the tackles, Noah Bradley the tight end, Akers will be the quarterback, Horton, Dalton, Clark, and Blevins the wideouts, Jaceri Eaves the tailback, and Ryan Castle the kicker.
The Cougar defense will lineup John Minnick, Camden Mariotti and Ben Arnett at the down tackles, Noah O’Dell and Eaves will be the edges, Williams and Alex Akers the inside backers, and the secondary will have Horton, Dalton, Gage Mannon, Conner Martin, and James Jackson. Martin is the punter.
VHSL Power Ratings:
E.C. Glass leads the Class 4, Region D ratings with a 7-1 record and 29.025 power rating. Blacksburg is second at 8-1 and 29.000, GW-Danville is third at 7-1 and 27.125, Salem is fourth at 6-2 and 26.250, Charlottesville is fifth at 5-3, Amherst sixth at 5-3, William Byrd 7th at 7-1, and Jefferson-Forest eighth at 4-4. Pulaski County sits ninth with a power rating of 22.75, just .500 behind Forest.
A Cougar win over Class 5 PH would move Pulaski Co. at least up to 8th and back in the playoff picture since Forest is playing Class 3 Rustburg. There are other crucial matchups with Amherst playing at Heritage in Lynchburg, and Wm. Byrd hosting Lord Botetourt.
Strength of schedule is a big factor in the ratings, and should Amherst and Byrd both lose and the Cougars win, Pulaski County could possibly climb at high at 6th in the ratings in just one night. In other games of interest Salem hosts Hidden Valley, Charlottesville has a crucial game at strong Louisa and with a defeat the Black Knights will fall in the ratings as well, Liberty Christian hosts E.C. Glass. A win at PH would likely put the Cougars solidly in the Class 4, Region D playoffs.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot