The formula was simple really. Pulaski County’s offense dominated the first half. The Cougar defense dominated the second half. And for the second time this season Pulaski County took the measure of Blacksburg, 17-14 Friday night in Dobson Stadium.
The Cougars defeated the Bruins, 12-3 in the 8th game of the season, but this victory was even bigger. This win advances Pulaski County into the second round of the VHSL Class 4, Region D state playoffs. And now there will be a trip to Lynchburg to face the Hilltoppers of E. C. Glass who had a convincing opening round win over Jefferson Forest, 55-21. The win lifts the Cougars to 9-2 on the season. Blacksburg’s season ends at 6-5.
Pulaski Co. made some changes offensively in hopes of moving the football better, and getting more possession time to help its outstanding defense. It was a full house backfield alignment primarily featuring more lead blockers with a variety of players carrying the football, six in all, and it gave the Cougars more punch at the point of attack. It worked extremely well in the first half as the Cougar front dominated the line of scrimmage. Pulaski Co. had only three first half possessions, but they were for 14, 11, and 10 plays, had points at the end of all three possessions, and the Cougars not only controlled the line of scrimmage, they took total control of the game clock.
So dominate were the Cougars the first half, they had 35 plays to just 12 snaps for Blacksburg. The Cougars had 185 yards rushing, and most of it power type plays. The Bruins had 72 passing yards and no yards rushing the first half.
“We did change things up a bit,” said PCHS head coach Stephen James. “We were certainly pleased with how it worked the first half. Blacksburg made some adjustments, we had a couple of issues and didn’t do as well the second half. But we’ve got some things to work with there. The defense played well again, and made plays when it had to. It was offense the first half and defense the second half.”
Blacksburg had a change in plans to for the second matchup. In the first game the Cougars hounded quarterback Luke Goforth, and stone walled the Bruin offense, allowing only 64 total yards. This time the Bruins went with a quick passing game. Goforth got the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible.
“It was a good plan,” said James. “They could not handle us at the line of scrimmage. They wanted to get the ball out quick, but still at times they needed to do something else and we really jumped on them. It’s just really nice to advance in the playoffs. The kids have done a good job, and they continue to play hard. We’re 9-2 and it feels good,” added James.
The first possession for the Cougars was a 65-yard, 14 play relentless march down the field. Gage Mannon had a big eight-yard run for a first down at the Blacksburg 37, then quarterback A.J. McCloud got five and a first down at the 24. Ethan Gallimore pushed for eight to the 16, Keyonte Kennedy got eight to the eight, and then McCloud kept for four yards into the end zone. Broc Simpson kicked the conversion and the Cougars were up, 7-0 and there was only 1:38 left in the first quarter.
Then the Bruins hit a big play as Karem Mohamed caught a quick slant pass, and the speedy receiver ran through a spread out secondary for 39 yards and the game was tied.
But then came the Cougars’ second possession. This was also for 65 yards, and it took 11 plays. Kennedy ran for five and a first down at the Bruins’ 38. He then got eight again and a first down at the 26. Two plays later Ethan Gallimore took an inside handoff off the left side and blew 23 yards to the promised land. Simpson’s kick was good again for a, 14-7 Cougar lead.
The Bruins got a big kickoff return from Mohamed to the 50, but it was three and out and a punt. It was getting late in the second quarter but the Cougars started a drive from their own 20. This was another highlight for the offensive front of Levi Young, Markus Wright, Tyler Brookman, Clay Phillips, and Cooper Dunnigan because the Cougars did not have a single lost yardage down the first half and down the field they came again. The Cougars piled up 11 first downs in the first half.
Mannon got eight for a first down at the 32 to get the drive cranked up. Then Austin Gallimore made a bull of a run as he carried half the Blacksburg defense for 20 yards and a first down at the Bruins’ 46. The Cougars continued to work their way down the field, but things started getting tight and a bit uncertain at times as the timer went out on the scoreboard. Pulaski Co. used all three of its timeouts to save clock and the only pass of the game stopped the clock. Out trotted Simpson. The Cougars had moved the ball to the Bruin 28. Simpson would hit the pigskin at the 35. It split the uprights with yards to spare for a 45-yard field goal, and a 17-7 halftime Cougar lead.
There was only one score the second half, and that came because the Cougar defense had trouble at times keeping up with the speedy Mohamed. He caught his second touchdown pass of the game from 12 yards out, and the lead was cut to, 17-14 early in the third quarter, but that was it.
The Bruins had one other shot. They had moved to the Cougar 20 midway in the fourth quarter, but on a third and six Ethan Gallimore sacked Goforth back at the 40. With a fourth and 30 situation on the next play, the Bruins tried a reverse play off jet sweep action and Cougar nose tackle Zeke Surber blew the play up, and with Brian Mitchell trying to scramble away Cougar linebacker Luke Russell ran him down.
Blacksburg finished with 152 total yards even though Goforth passed for 203 on 22 of 31, but the problem was 11 carries for minus 49 yards rushing. Most of those were quarterback sacks and late failed trick plays, but the Bruins were helpless to run the football. Mohamed had nine receptions for 128 yards, and both Blacksburg scores. Cougar Tristan Bowden also recovered a Bruin fumble.
Pulaski County ran the ball 53 times for 251 yards. McCloud only tried one pass, it was incomplete, but it stopped the clock late in the first half and allowed Simpson more time to kick his field goal.
Kennedy rushed for 98 yards on 23 carries, Mannon 13 times for 59, Ethan Gallimore four times for 37, Austin Gallimore twice for 25, McCloud nine times for 25, and Russell twice for seven. Ethan and Austin Gallimore got their first career carries, and it was the first time Russell had a carry this year.
Game time in Lynchburg next Friday will be 7 pm.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot