Jacob Johnson hauls in a pass from Drew Dalton for a 15-yard gain against Salem last Friday night. (Brian Bishop/The Patriot)
If you had seen the final stats before the final score, you probably would have believed Pulaski County beat Salem last Friday night in the Cougars’ final regular season contest.
But stats don’t always tell the real story.
The Spartans kept their winning streak against the Cougars alive, scoring 13 points in the first six minutes of the game and coasting to a 27-14 victory.
Salem’s win assured them of the top spot in the Region 4D playoffs beginning this week, while Pulaski County’s two final losses dropped them to a third seed in the playoffs. (See related story.)
Pulaski County put together 347 total yards of offense to Salem’s 262. The Cougars had 16 first downs to the Spartans’ 8.
The Cougars’ Drew Dalton went 17 of 31 passing on the night for 198 yards compared to Salem’s Daron Wilson who completed only 3 of 6 pass attempts and had 1 interception.
The difference in the game, however, was Salem’s big plays.
The first came with just over two minutes gone in the game.
The Cougars could only get to their 36-yard line when on fourth down, punter Broc Simpson’s kick got hung up in a stout wind and took a Salem bounce before being downed at the Pulaski County 39 – a net 3-yard kick.
Two plays later, Salem’s Zavione Wood broke free and scored on a 35-yard run. Wesley Cross added the PAT and Salem was on the board early at 7-0.
After the Cougars punted on their next possession, Wood broke free again and rambled 68 yards to the Pulaski County 5.
Two plays later he carried it in from the three for his second touchdown of the night. This time a high snap cost the Spartans an extra point and Salem led, 13-0 with 6:11 to go in the first.
“I thought the speed of the game got us initially in the first quarter,” Cougar Head Coach Mark Dixon said. “It took us a minute to adjust to the speed and I thought they were more physical up front. We gave up really two big, long runs.
“Then offensively we just struggled all night to run the ball between the tackles. That created a huge challenge for us.
“I thought as the game went on we got more competitive. I am certainly proud of the effort of our kids,” said Dixon.
He said his Cougars still have some work to do to win big games like last Friday’s.
“We’re still not playing clean enough football to win big games. We’ve got to be a lot better in special teams. We gave up a lot there I thought. We’ve got to be a lot more consistent running the football to be able to open up the offense a little more.
“I thought we became a bit one-dimensional, having to throw the ball too much. That’s tough when you’re one-dimensional against a team that has good athletes,” he added.
Both teams traded possessions to end the first quarter before Pulaski County began its first scoring drive as the second quarter began.
The Cougars got a big play of their own when on third and ten, Dalton hit Quemar Porter on a screen pass which Porter took all the way to the Salem 25 for a 50-yard completion.
The Cougars got to the Salem 20 before facing a fourth and five. Head Coach Mark Dixon sent in Simpson for a 37-yard field goal attempt, but the kick sailed wide right.
On their next possession, Salem was forced to punt after Will Bishop sacked Wilson on third down play for an 11-yard loss.
The Cougars got the ball back at their own 45.
Dalton his Jacob Johnson on a play-action pass for 15 yards. Ethan Gallimore ran for 7, 5 and 12 yards before scoring on his fourth straight carry from 16 yards out. Simpson added the PAT and Pulaski County trailed, 13-7.
It looked like Pulaski County had shaken off the disastrous first quarter, but on the kickoff, Salem’s Shawn Collins returned the kick 37 yards to the Spartan 44.
Then on first down, Salem’s big-play offense struck again when Wilson hit Collins on a 56-yard scoring pass. The PAT try from Cross was good and just like that Salem led, 20-7.
Pulaski County responded and looked like it would answer with a score – especially when Dalton hit Porter on a 36-yard pass to get the Cougars inside Salem’s red zone.
Gallimore carried 2 yards to the Salem 15, but as has happened time after time this season, the wheels came off for the Cougars again as they were flagged for illegal procedure.
On the next two plays, Dalton threw incomplete twice to give Pulaski County a fourth and 13 from the Salem 20.
Simpson was brought back into to try another 37-yarder, but this time the kick was blocked.
The half ended with Pulaski County trailing, 20-7.
In the second half, both teams traded possessions until late in the third quarter when on a third and eight, Wilson went play action and hit Collins on a 34-yard pass play to give the Spartans a first and goal from the Cougars’ 8.
Three plays later, Cameron Leftwich carried for one yard and the touchdown. Cross hit the PAT and Salem led, 27-7.
However, the Cougars didn’t quit.
Starting their last possession at their own one following a big punt by Salem’s Cross, the Cougars would drive all the way down the field.
On third and 10 from the 1, Dalton hit John Lyman for a 30-yard reception and a drive-saving first down.
A Gallimore rush for five, Keyonte Kennedy gained 10 and a holding call on Salem put the ball at the Spartan 46.
On second down, Kennedy gained 3 more.
Then on third down, Porter broke free down the sideline and raced 42 yards for the score.
Simpson hit the PAT and the Cougars trailed, 27-14, but with only 2:45 to play.
An onside kick attempt failed for the Cougars and that was the game.
The Spartans’ win streak in the series went to 11 straight as Pulaski County hasn’t won this contest since 2010.
Individually for Pulaski County, Gallimore again hit the century mark with 100 yards on 20 carries. Porter went 1 for 42 yards, Kennedy was 3 for 12, Simpson went 1 for 5 and Dalton carried 8 times for -10.
Wood was the leading ground gainer in the game, with 18 carries for 139 yards.
Porter led the game in receiving with 5 catches for 106 yards. Johnson had 6 for 38, Lyman was 3 for 42 and Gallimore went 3 for 12.
Lyman also had an interception.
Trevor Burton had a sack for the Cougars as did Bishop.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot