Pulaski County suffered a disappointing loss at Salem Friday night, 21-10. It likely cost the Cougar home field advantage to begin the Region 4D playoff next Friday. The game was marred by controversy as it has been at times before in games at Salem, but it was also marked with unfortunate loss of composure, execution mistakes, and penalties by the Cougars. As of press time one of two things are in the offing for Pulaski County. If GW-Danville defeats Halifax Saturday afternoon, the Cougars will be the fifth seed in the region and travel to Danville next Friday. Should Halifax upset the Eagles, then the Cougars would be the 4th seed and host Jefferson Forest in Dobson Stadium.
The game started with a bang, and not in favor of the Cougars. On the first snap Isiah Pursinger of Salem popped clean and was off to the races before the Cougar defense could even react and raced 80 yards untouched for a touchdown.
The Cougars retaliated, driving to the Salem 20. Ryan Castle drilled a 33-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3. That was the score at the half, but the Cougars had to make a stand. In the second quarter a high snap on a 4th down punt resulted in Salem having first and goal at the 10. The Spartans never got past the four in a terrific stand by the Cougar defense.
But the second half did not start well for PCHS. On first down a running back slipped and fell in the backfield. On second down there was a high snap. And on third down a pass attempt wasn’t close. Salem drove 56 yards in seven plays, but the possession was helped by a 15-yard late hit on the Cougars. Pursinger scored from the 22.
Then came a drive by Pulaski County that appeared to cut the lead to, 14-10. The drive started at the 34. Kade Akers and Noah O’Dell connected on a 46-yard pass. E.J. Horton and Akers connected on a 14 yarder to the Salem nine. After a penalty, Jakari Finley caught a pass out of the backfield and headed for the pylon. He was ruled out at the one. On 4th down Akers moved from his normal deep set and went under center. He sneaked for the final yard into the end zone. Touchdown! The kicking unit ran onto the field and Castle was lined up for the point after kick. Then the game was stopped, an objection came from the Salem sideline. After some discussion, a flag dropped to the ground, a penalty was called for illegal procedure on the Cougars, and the touchdown taken off the board. The penalty was called on Akers for his move under center with the objection being how much time he was set before the snap.
From time to time you see a late flag in a game for a variety of reasons, but nullify a touchdown with the kicking unit on the field? PCHS head coach Stephen James cannot comment on officiating decisions, but when asked if he thought his team had scored a touchdown, he responded, “Yes.” When asked if it was the latest flag he had seen in his coaching career, he could only nod his head and say no comment.
Pulaski County appeared to lose its composure at this point. Salem drove from its six, but the Cougars helped out again with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball to the 20. Again the Cougar defense stiffened, but with a third down and four at the seven, jumped off sides. Still, it should have been a half the distance penalty to just inside the four, but the ball was mistakenly spotted at the two. Pursinger scored from there, and Salem had a commanding, 21-3 lead.
But still the Cougars came back with their best drive of the game, moving 80 yards in 10 plays following the kickoff. Gage Mannon had a 28-yard run, and Finley popped clean up the middle to scored from 22 yards out, and with 8:18 left, it was 21-10, but there it would stay as the Spartans ran out the clock.
The controversy marred the football game, but James would not say that was the difference. “I think the kids got a little frustrated after the touchdown was whipped away. One moment you have the momentum back and you’re excited, and then the bottom drops out. But the kids made some really good plays in the game, the defense hung in there, but the major difference was Salem’s offensive and defensive fronts. You have to give them credit. They have a good team, and it was a real battle for us at the line of scrimmage. Me and some of the coaches are going to head down to Danville, see what we’re looking at, and come back Monday, work hard, and get ready for whatever we have to face when the playoffs open next week,” said James.
Pulaski County could not sustain a running game and entering the fourth quarter had only 44 yards on the ground as the Spartan defensive front proved to be a tough test, and big linebackers Avery Close (235) and Bobby Pinello (240) were tough to block. Finley finished with 54 yards on seven carries, Mannon 40 on 15, and Akers 27 on nine. Akers was nine of 14 passing with one interception for 139 yards. The Cougars finished with 233 total yards of offense. O’Dell was the leading receiver with 67 yards on three catches, all of them resulting in first downs, Horton had four catches for 47, Mannon one for 16 and Finley one for 11.
Salem amassed 336 yards total offense. Pursinger finished with 240 on 21 carries, and Zavionne Wood was just as effective, gaining 72 yards on 12 runs. The Spartans averaged eight yards a rush, the Cougars just 2.9. Jack Gladden was only four of nine passing for 22 yards and when the Spartans attempted to throw the football were almost always under heavy pressure from the Cougar defense.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot