Cougars hold Bruins to 10 yards in second half, but fall by 7 in defensive battle

       Pulaski County’s defense held Blacksburg to over 200 yards less than its per game average. But Blacksburg still won a defensive struggle, 21-14 because its defense was equally impressive Friday night in Dobson Stadium. The win pushed the Bruins to 8-0 on the season, and dropped the Cougars to 6-2. The Bruins came up with five big turnovers, and made two big plays, and the great defensive effort came up just short.
      Two teams that had been putting big numbers on the board all season found their offenses over-matched in a tremendous defensive struggle. The difference? One long pass and one alert punt return. There were no long drives or sustained offensive possessions in the game. Blacksburg had a 50-yard drive for its first touchdown. There were no other possessions that could be termed drives for the remainder of the game. Four of the five touchdowns came on plays covering 63 yards or more. There was not a single sustained possession by either team the second half.
     “It was a great defensive game,” said Pulaski Co. coach Stephen James. “I was very proud of our defensive effort and the kids played hard. Blacksburg’s defense was very good. It wasn’t easy to gain yards out there. Five turnovers are disappointing, but some of that came trying to force plays when we couldn’t make one and were under pressure. Big games like this are decided by just one or two plays, and they made one more than we did.  We have an open date now, and we need it. We’ve been going for almost three months without a break. We’re going to give the kids some time off, rest, heal up some bumps and bruises, then get ready for PH in two weeks. We still have an opportunity to have a great season. We need to come back and give ourselves a chance to do just that,” said James.
      Pulaski County jumped on top quick. Gage Mannon intercepted a Grant Johnston pass at the Cougar 37. On the first play he popped clean off the left side and raced 63 yards to paydirt, and the Cougars had a quick, 7-0 lead.  But Pulaski County’s next possession resulted in a punt from its own end zone and Blacksburg took over at the midfield stripe. That resulted in the game’s longest scoring drive, the only actual scoring drive. Brian Mitchell popped for 30, then for a dozen, and scored on a one-yard run tie the game.
     But that was it for Mitchell. He was minus yards the remainder of the game. He finished with 48 yards on 13 carries. The Bruins rushed for just 17 net yards on 22 attempts. Johnston was minus 31 yards on nine carries because of six quarterback sacks. It was one of the great defensive efforts in the history of the Cougar program.
      Following the tying touchdowns, E.J. Horton took the kickoff at the 10, sliced through an open space on the left hash, and motored 90 yards for a Pulaski County touchdown. Ryan Castle kicked his second conversion and the Cougars were back on top, 14-7. But from that point, Pulaski Co. struggled on offense. There were three pass interceptions, and two lost fumbles. One turnover came on a third and 19 play. Kade Akers completed a 20-yard pass to Xavier Cobbs for a first down, but he lost a fumble when he was tackled. It was frustrating. The defense held Blacksburg deep, forcing a second quarter punt with the opportunity take a two score lead with great field possession. Mannon ran for 12 to the Bruins’ 22, but a holding penalty nullified the play. The Cougars were called for holding four times in the game. Both teams were flagged heavily during the game. Pulaski County 10 times for 85 yards and Blacksburg 11 times for 95 yards.
       The second quarter saw the Cougar offense bog down, and then came the two big plays for Blacksburg. Johnston was under heavy pressure, moved to his right and basically threw up a “Hail Mary.” The coverage was good by the Cougar defensive back, but Thomas Coffee plucked the ball out of the air and it was a 76-yard touchdown pass. Then with just 2:59 left in the half Pulaski Co. punted. The ball was bouncing and it appeared it would roll dead, but Mitchell scooped up the bouncing ball on the gallop and sped down the sideline, cutting back into the field at the 50 and outraced everybody to the end zone untouched.
     Few would have even considered that 21-14 would be the final score. Few would have thought the two teams would play a scoreless second half, but that’s what happened as the defenses overpowered the offenses. The Cougar defense was relentless. Blacksburg finished with just five first downs for the game,  but the Cougar offense just couldn’t make a meaningful play so impressive was the Blacksburg defense.
      The Bruins finished with 186 total yards, just 10 in the second half! Pulaski Co. finished with 228 total yards, only 74 in the second half. Johnston was 15 of 26 passing for 169 yards and Mannon and Akers both picked him off. Mitchell, Josh Golston, and Karim Muhammed had interceptions for the Bruins, Muhammed and Cole Epperly had fumble recoveries.
      Mannon finished with 96 yards on nine carries. His 63-yarder on the Cougars’ first play from scrimmage was almost half the yards rushing for the game. Jabari Finley had 35 yards on 14 runs, Akers finished with two on eight due to sacks, Horton was one for five, Noah O’Dell ran an option play for three, and Broc Simpson lost two yards on a fake punt.
     Akers was 11 of 27 passing for 89 yards and three picks. Horton was the leading receiver with five catches for 39 yards, Cobbs caught three for 30, O’Dell two for 28 and Logan Burchett one for three.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot
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