Cougars face tough test Saturday night

Cougar football helmetBy MASON CLARK

The Patriot

So far this year, the Cougars have had a delayed game, a Thursday night game and a bye week. Now this week they will get another rare occurrence when they play a Saturday night game, traveling to the familiar Bogle Field to take on old rival the Cave Spring Knights.

The Cougars come in at 2-1, the Knights at 3-1. Things get more serious this week, as River Ridge District play begins for the Cougars. We need to be at our best and continue to get better and better as the season progresses.

Other than Salem, we likely have the most history with the Knights. We have played them all but two years in our history: 2001 and 2002. Other than that, we’ve played them every single season of our existence.

We lead the series 32-14, including the last seven meetings. The early years of Cougar football saw some entertaining games with Cave. We got just our second win in school history against them with a 16-14 win. We lost 34-0 in 1975, before Timmy Venable led the Cougars to a thrilling 30-28 win in 1976. But the Knights shut us out in 1977 (23-0) and 1978 (42-0) the last two years of Dave Brown’s tenure. Interesting fact: the 1978 game with the Knights has a school record, but not a good one: most Cougar fumbles in one game. We fumbled the football nine (!) times in that game alone.

Joel Hicks would be much more successful against Cave Spring, like he was against just about everybody. We lost a heartbreaker in 1979 at 8-7, which was Coach Hicks’ first loss at PCHS, and then lost 28-8 in 1980. But we would then rip off seven consecutive wins over CSHS: 16-13 in 1981, 23-21 in 1982 as part of the first unbeaten regular season, 22-13 in 1983, 20-0 in 1984, 14-13 in 1985 when they missed a PAT, 42-21 in 1986, and 30-0 in 1987. They shocked us in 1988 when they upset us 7-0, but we avenged it in 1989 with a 35-0 win.

The next three years, the Knights would have future NFL superstars and potential Pro Hall of Famers Tiki and Ronde Barber. But the identical twins didn’t do much of anything against PC; we beat them 14-9 in 1990, 14-3 in 1991, we beat them 17-0 on our way to a state championship in 1992. As great as the Barber brothers were, they didn’t score a single touchdown against the Cougars in three years and had pedestrian rushing/receiving yardage. That is always a popular topic with longtime Cougar fans.

We dominated them 49-7 as a top ten team in the nation in 1993. We went 10-0 that year, they went 0-10. We continued to pound them with a 47-7 win in 1994, 49-7 in 1995, and 38-0 in 1996. The Knights finally showed some resistance in 1997 when we still won, but it was much closer with a 31-28 win. We won big in 1998 when Kwasi Scott ran wild on them for six total touchdowns and completing a record-setting 1,203-yard season (at the time that was the most in school history).

The year 1999 was possibly the greatest game in school history from an entertainment standpoint. In danger of our first losing season under coach Hicks, we were able to stop a two-point conversion attempt and escaped with a thrilling 35-34 win to give us a win to close out the twentieth century. Then in 2000, we were looking to finish up a perfect regular season, but we were completely dominated by them, as we couldn’t stop their passing game and allowed over 400 passing yards in a 49-14 loss.

2001 and 2002 were the only years without Cave on the schedule. Jack Turner won his first two meetings with them in contrasting styles: a 42-0 win in 2003, and then a much closer 21-20 game in 2004. Kevin Crouse carried the day for us in the 2004 game. In 2005, Crouse’s outstanding play wasn’t enough that time as we fell 20-10. 2006 was about as tough a year as we’ve seen, but we did beat Cave that year 16-9. We beat them 35-7 in 2007 and 42-0 in 2008 with Nubian Peak giving them fits both games.

The recent history of the rivalry is of runs: Cave won six consecutive games over us from 2009-2014, then we’ve won the past seven from 2015 to now. They beat us 42-34 in 2009, 41-19 in 2010, 22-20 in 2011, 17-14 in 2012, and 17-10 in 2013. Malik Eaves set a school record with 162 receiving yards in the 2014 game, but we still came up just short at 33-26. They haven’t beat us since.

We beat them in a downpour in 2015 by a score of 25-7, 28-14 in 2016 with Hunter Thomas’ 252 yards and 4 touchdowns. Then in 2017 we beat them 14-13, in a strikingly similar fashion to the 1985 game. We won 34-0 in 2018, 49-12 in 2019, 42-0 in Mark Dixon’s first game in 2021 spring season, and 42-7 last fall with John Lyman’s two long touchdowns highlighting things.

Cave Spring Preview
To put it simply: this is not the Cave Spring of the past few years. This will not be a win taken for granted as it at times has been lately. The Knights are bigger, stronger, more physical and just better now than in years past. This will not be an easy win.

Nick Leftwich has done a wonderful job at Cave Spring. The Knights were noticeably stronger and more physical last year and finished at 3-7. So far this year, they are 3-1. They shut out Hidden Valley by a score of 37-0, they shut out Northside 30-0, fell to Glenvar in a close 10-3 game, and got back on track last week with a 34-7 win over Alleghany. They average 26 points a game and have allowed a mere 17 points this year, just four a game. They are a tough team.

Leading the way is senior quarterback Landen Altizer. He is playing quarterback for the first time this year, but you’d never think so. He has rushed for 122 yards and 2 scores against Hidden Valley and has a rushing touchdown in three of the Knights’ four games so far. Cameron Parker is the starting running back for the Knights and is coming off a stellar 159-yard rushing game and 2 scores against Alleghany. Out wide is Owen Sweeney who has caught a touchdown pass in three of four games. Altizer has been an efficient and outstanding passer, completing 8/9 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown against HVHS, throwing two touchdown passes against Northside, and last week going 11 of 16 passing for 152 yards and 2 more touchdowns. Also factoring into the run game is Jackson Stefan, just a sophomore who has rushed for 74, 63 and 89 yards in games so far. The Knight line has paved the way for such production, racking up 308 rush yards against Hidden Valley, 211 against Northside, and over 300 again against Alleghany.

Defensively, the scores speak for themselves. The Knights are an aggressive and fundamentally-sound defense that plays disciplined, smart football. Two shutouts and allowing nobody to score over ten points attests to their ability on that side of the ball. Even a high-powered Glenvar offense who scored 52 just last week struggled to do anything on offense against CSHS. We will have to fight for every point we score on Saturday night.

Pulaski County Preview
At this point, Cougar fans know what to expect. We don’t run many plays. That’s the point. We don’t run much, and don’t want to; we want to out-execute the opposition. Things start up front. Evan Alger, Aiden Moore, Nolan Dalton (at times Alan Fernandez), Diego Turner, and Hunter Hill have paved the way for a ground attack that has been efficient, consistent and explosive as well as methodical at times.

Leading the way is Trevor Burton. The senior superback has ran over, around, and through everybody we’ve faced so far with 54 attempts, 457 rushing yards and a staggering ten touchdowns in three games and has the senior running towards the record books. For those keeping up, Hunter Thomas has the single-season (regular season only) rushing record with 1,856 yards, and Frank Cobbs has the regular season-only touchdown record with 27. Burton is a bit behind pace for the yards mark, but the touchdown mark is well within his pace at this point. Burton would be quick to credit the five guys blocking in front of him, but he’s been the heart of the Cougar attack so far.

Christopher Gallimore is another huge piece. Despite a forgettable statistical night against Tennessee High, he is coming off a 100-yard rushing game against Bluefield and has 184 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns so far. Not to mention that QB play in the flexbone is also demanding on executing and carrying out fakes. Gallimore has not been asked to throw it much, but when called upon he has done well to complete 5 of 11 passes for 81 yards, with no interceptions. It should be mentioned too that most of the pass attempts have been downfield throws, so his completion percentage shouldn’t be expected to be too high.

The A-backs have been a bit more of a by-committee approach. Brett Jones has done very well running the football with a 9.5 yards per carry average and a touchdown against Northside, and he also has 2 catches for 41 yards. Zach Parker averages 11 yards per run and has returned a kickoff for a score. Taner Mace has been a good option to run the ball and catch it when necessary, as well. Out wide, Marcus Reed and Davis Neel are reliable targets and block well too. Overall, the offense has piled up 980 yards in three games on 145 plays, about seven yards per play. That’s really good.

The defense has been solid, particularly against the run. Alan Fernandez, Diego Turner and Jack Allen lead the way on the defensive line. Burton, Evan Alger, Nicholas Woolwine and Tyler Underwood have been great at linebacker so far, all of them contributing tackling but also rushing the passer, sometimes covering, and playing disciplined. The secondary is where we have struggled at times. We will need to do better back there as Cave Spring has shown the ability to pass well. Zach Parker is unlikely to play Friday night. A Bluefield official decided to eject Parker despite him having done nothing wrong, as the film showed. I can’t say I’m surprised an official from Bluefield did so. But no matter, we will be down one of if not our best cover corner, making the challenge harder. But the coaches and players have had an extra week to prepare for it.

Special teams has been very good so far. Nathan Pratt has done great on placement kicks, Jones has done good holding, and has done good long snapping on kicks and punts. Pratt doubles as a punter too and has done well there. The kickoffs have been handled by freshman Bryant Nottingham, who has also done well there. The coverage teams have done good preventing any punt or kick return scores and limiting yardage on them. And it must be mentioned that the punt team wrapped things up last game, executing a fake punt to perfection to shut the door on the Bluefield Beavers. That’s a testament to the players, but also the coaching staff. Special teams is always about coaching, and the execution on special teams reflects the level of coaching we’re lucky to have.

Remember, the game is Saturday night, not Friday, 7:00 pm, Bogle Field. Come out and support the Cougs!