Cougars host Bruins for Homecoming

Cougar football helmetBy MASON CLARK

The Patriot

Pulaski County slipped to 3-3 in the season for the second straight year with a 49-14 loss to Salem. While the blowout loss to the Spartans hurts, there’s still plenty on the table for the season. It’s homecoming week at PCHS, and lowly Blacksburg will be visiting us this week. The Bruins will look to break a 24-game losing streak on Friday night, tied for the longest in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Bruins used to be called the Indians before they decided to change their name. Bruins was chosen when this debate finally ended in 2002. The Indians at the time were rivals in the now defunct New River District with the Dublin Dukes and Pulaski Orioles, before the two combined in 1974. For 27 years, we never saw Blacksburg in a real game.

The Bruins won state championships in 1977, 1989, and as recently as 2016. They have two unbeaten regular seasons, 1976 and 2018. They had a legendary coach for decades named David Crist, whose son Michael now coaches across the bridge and has an undefeated Radford team playing well. For a long time, Blacksburg played their football at what is now commonly referred to as “old Bill Brown Stadium”, before they completed a new one under the same name in 2008. We were their first game in the new Bill Brown stadium, where we won 41-20.

The first ever meeting between the two came just before that name change, in the 2001 season. The Cougars were tested by the Indians, but held on for a tight 34-27 win, led by Alan Wheeling’s two touchdown runs. The next year was harder. In our first ever trip to the old Bill Brown Stadium, the Bruins shut out the Cougars, 20-0. It was the second last loss of Hicks’ illustrious career, and was one of just seven times being shut out under coach Hicks. Jack Turner’s first battle was also tough, struggling to a 44-22 loss. In 2004, sophomore Kevin Crouse ran for 243 yards and two scores to lead us to a 27-0 win, and then in 2005 he did it again with 197 yards and 2 more scores against the Bruins. We led the series 3-2 at that point.

Then the hard 2006 season came along and Blacksburg beat us 21-7, and then they beat us again the next year 28-23 in a fairly surprising loss for us. Then in 2008, we got them twice with Nubian Peak terrorizing them twice, 41-20 and then 42-0, the biggest playoff win in school history.

In 2009, we took a beating with a 34-3 loss to Blacksburg. Then in 2010, we won almost by the exact same score, this time 34-0. In 2011 we got out only win of that season against the Bruins, winning 28-0. We beat them 28-7 in 2012 and 13-3 in 2013, and with that we’d suddenly won four straight over them. In 2014, we won in a downpour rain by a score of 39-19. The 2015 game saw a Blacksburg freshman receiver put up over 200 receiving yards on us, but we still won 41-22. We had beat them six straight times.

But then the Bruins went on a run of their own. They upset us in 2016 by a score of 17-13. Then in 2017 they were simply a better team and won big, 53-28. The 2018 season saw two heartbreaking losses to then: 21-14 in the regular season, and then 28-21 in the playoffs.

Then in 2019 we got back on track beating them 12-3 when the Cougar defense held them to under 20 yards of total offense. And with the past two horrific seasons, we beat them 56-0 in 2021 spring to tie the record for biggest margin of victory in school history, and then last season, John Lyman scored four touchdowns to give us a 49-7 win.

Pulaski County leads the series 15-9, including the past three meetings. The Cougars will be heavily favored this week.

Blacksburg Preview
Blacksburg is in the midst of the worst span in program history, by far. They’re currently on a 24-game losing streak. Their last win came in the 2019 season when they beat Hidden Valley 29-23. Those seniors on that team are now juniors in college, and the current high school seniors were freshmen the last time they won a game. They’re in danger of their third consecutive winless season. So far they have scored 31 total points, but allowed a whopping 327. That’s averaging 5 points per game, but allowing over 54 a game.

Zack Leonard has found the going tough in his first season at the helm. The Bruins have allowed no fewer than 35 points in a game this season and have scored no more than fourteen points in a game so far. That includes five games over forty points allowed, three games over fifty allowed, and two games over seventy allowed, in a 70-0 loss to Lord Botetourt and a 76-0 loss to Salem, which was the biggest loss in school history for them. It’s tough times in Blacksburg right now football wise, both for the Hokies but even more for the Bruins.

The Bruins have scored just four total touchdowns on the year. Hopefully Leonard can get this program back to where they were just a few short years ago, when they went 34-8 from 2016-18 and won a state title in 2016.

The Bruins run a spread offense with three or four wide receivers almost all the time. They want to run and throw and be pretty balanced between the two. Defensively they usually run a 4-3 defense; though that could change with how they choose to defend the Cougar offense, with the flexbone being pretty rare today.

Pulaski County Preview
The Cougars are coming off a beat down loss at the hands of Salem, 49-14. The Cougars need to bounce back this week, and the Bruins appear to be a good team to do that against.

First, the playoff situation. The Cougs currently sit on the outside looking in, at the ninth seed in the region. Here are the current standings:

1. Salem, 25.57
2. EC Glass, 25.16
3. Louisa County, 25.14
4. Orange County, 23.40
5. Amherst County, 22.50
6. Jefferson Forest, 21.16
7. Halifax County, 19.83
8. Western Albemarle, 19.83
9. Pulaski County, 19.66
10. Mecklenburg County, 17.33
11. GW Danville, 16.80
12. Blacksburg, 14.83

The top eight teams make the playoffs, so right now we are on the outside looking in. We will need a strong last month of football if we want to be playing into November. With games against Graham, Patrick Henry and Christiansburg, we control our own destiny as to if we make it or not. Whether we win those games is what it’ll come down to. Even with a win this week against Blacksburg, we would get a limited amount of points out of it with them being winless. We will likely need to win at least two of these last four games.

The Cougars offense has been pretty good this season. The clear cut leader of the offense is Trevor Burton. The senior has 113 rush attempts for 860 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. He’s currently on pace to tie the record of 27 in a single season, set in 2000 by Frank Cobbs. The most rushing touchdowns in a season is held by Craig Hidge at 26, so Burton could also break that. Of course the offensive line is to be credited as much as anyone for this; senior Evan Alger, sophomore Aiden Moore, sophomore Nolan Dalton, senior Diego Turner, and sophomore Hunter Hill have paved the way to this outstanding start.

Junior Chris Gallimore has rushed for 330 yards and 3 touchdowns, and is 14/30 passing for 209 yards, giving him 539 total yards on the season. Taner Mace has rushed for 129 yards on 23 carries and caught 3 passes for 69 yards. Brett Jones has ran 20 times for 143 yards and a touchdown and caught 2 passes for 41 yards. Zack Parker has ran for 46 yards on 5 rush attempts, giving the three a total of 318 rush yards and 110 receiving yards, a good average of over eight yards per touch. Their touches will usually be fairly limited, so those three A-backs have made the most of their attempts so far.

Marcus Reed has done well this season receiving, as he has now caught 5 passes for 91 yards now, after 2 catches for 15 yards against Salem. Davis Neel was unable to go Friday, but has blocked well and caught 2 passes for 12 yards. All in all, the Cougars are nearing 2,000 rushing yards as a team on the season.

The defense has been good at times, other times inconsistent and shaky. At this point, we have allowed 136 points on 6 games, about 23 a game. Buy the consistent theme of teams throwing the ball with lots of success against us is troubling. Salem added their names to the list of teams with big nights through the air against us. Four of our six opponents have thrown for 140 yards or more and have averaged more than ten yards per pass attempt. The Cougars have allowed 922 passing yards so far this year, over 150 a game, and almost 10 yards per attempt.

Defending the run has gone much better for the Cougars. Jack Allen, Alan Fernandez ans Diego Turner have done well up front. The linebackers, Alger, Tyler Underwood, Burton and Nicholas Woolwine, have also played well this season. The secondary has seen a few different groups of players out there at times, the most common being Zach Parker, Taner Mace and Brett Jones. The secondary will have to be strong for us to play our best football down the stretch.

Special teams has been good this year. Nathan Pratt has done good kicking PATs and field goals and freshman Bryant Nottingham is doing good on kickoffs. Alger has also done good with long snapping, as there hasn’t been a bad snap yet. Burton and Zach Parker have done good returning kicks.