It’s a bye week for Pulaski County football and it probably couldn’t have come at a better time following Friday night’s heartbreaking loss in their home opener against James Wood, 34-33.
“Pretty bitter taste considering how hard our kids fought,” said head coach Mark Dixon about the game. “I thought they (Cougars) gave great effort. Just a shame it ended up how it did, that’s for sure.”
Dixon’s Cougars had led most of the game, taking the lead late in the first quarter when Keyontae Kennedy put Pulaski County in front 13-7 with a 21-yard touchdown run.
The Cougars would hold the lead for over two quarters until the 10:53 mark of the fourth when Woods’ Jaden Ashby scored on a 22-yard pass play. The extra point kick was good, and the Colonels had rallied for the lead, 28-27.
A minute and a half later, Lyman scored on a 13-yard pass play to give the Cougars back the lead, 33-28.
The Cougars went for two to make up for an earlier PAT that had been blocked but failed on the attempt.
Then things really got interesting.
James Wood got the ball back and drove to the Cougars’ one – with the big play of the drive being a 29-yard pass from Jared Neal to Zachery Rose.
Brondos was stopped on first down for no gain then Wood was hit by a false start penalty, pushing the Colonels back to the six.
Brondos rushed for three back to the three-yard line but was stopped cold for no gain on third down by a big defensive play by Kennedy.
On fourth down the Colonels just missed scoring the go-ahead TD when Neal’s pass to Blake Corbin failed when officials ruled the receiver was out of bounds on the catch.
With the Cougars holding and less than three minutes to play, it appeared Pulaski County was in the driver’s seat.
Kennedy carried the mail three straight plays but could only get seven yards to the 11.
On fourth and three, the Cougars punted. Nathan Pratt’s kick, however, went only 16 yards to the 27 giving James Wood another shot.
And then “the play” happened.
On Wood’s first play, Ashby lined up in a “wildcat” formation, took the snap and passed toward the Cougars’ goal line only to see Cougar sophomore Brett Jones come down with an interception at the three.
It looked like the Cougars had put the game away on the play, however, there was yellow laundry on the field.
After a meeting of the officials, Pulaski County was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“They (officials) said we had a coach who was on the field when the ball was snapped,” Dixon said about the penalty on the Cougars’ interception. “They said they couldn’t give us a sideline warning and they were going to give us a 15-yard penalty.
“It’s just one of those things. It was unfortunate, but we’ll move forward.”
The penalty gave the ball back to James Wood and on first down. Immediately Neal hit Colonels senior Ryan King on a 14-yard pass for what turned out to be the game winning score.
The extra point failed due to a bad snap and James Wood led, 34-33.
After a short kickoff landing out of bounds, the Cougars started at their own 35. But on first down, a miscommunication on a pass from Cooper to JJ Gulley resulted in an interception by King and the game was over.
Dixon said that after the game, his players were hurt.
“They were hurt, which hurt me the most and hurt our staff the most because we were all so proud of how they performed and how hard they played. I wanted them to go home feeling good because they had earned that. I tried the best I could after the game to help them feel good because we all were super proud of the effort.”
Dixon said his kids are resilient.
“We’ve been through it. The kids are resilient. We’ve had a bunch of young guys step up and play really well.”
With this week’s bye, Dixon is hoping some of his kids can heal up from injuries that caused him to have to shake up much of the offensive line going into Friday’s game.
“Knock on wood I’m hoping to get some more breaks with the health stuff as we move forward. We just seem to be snake bitten right now, especially on the offensive line,” he said.
Against James Wood, left tackle Evan Alger and left guard DeMarcus Hayden were both out on the front line. To fill their spots, Dixon moved Alan Fernandez to left tackle. Center Jack Johnson went to left guard, and freshman Nolan Dalton made his first start with the varsity at center.
“Fernandez was playing super good on defense, now we’ve brought him over on offense and he’s just giving tremendous effort out there,” said Dixon.
“Obviously what Nolan Dalton did on offense was huge. He’s going to be a great player here. For him to go in there and figure it out as a ninth grader and give us a chance to win just speaks volumes. Really his football IQ is off the charts. We run a pretty complicated blocking scheme and for him to pick it all up was pretty impressive,” Dixon added.
“Hopeful we’ll get DeMarcus back and we should have everyone else back from the last game. Evan is different. It’s the area of his body. Around the neck. We just have to air on the side of caution.”
Prior to Friday’s game Dixon found out another key Cougar – Trevor Burton – would be unable to play.
“Not having Trevor was huge. He’s a whale of a player. He does a ton of stuff for us. We found out late he wasn’t able to go so hopefully he’ll be back.”
The Cougars had been scheduled to host Bluefield last Friday, but COVID issues kept the Beavers from traveling to Dublin. Athletic Director Scott Vest was able to set up the game with Wood to keep Pulaski County from going two straight weeks without a game.
Now there is a short break before River Ridge District play begins.
“The big thing the next three days is special teams. Trying to get them better – get them buttoned up a little more.
“Defensively, we’ve just got to get more sound. We’re giving up too many big, big plays. And on offense we’re still very, very vanilla. I’m hoping to expand, but obviously we’ve put up a lot of yards the last two games, so you’ve got to be careful expanding just for the sake of doing it. That can create confusion with what you’re running right now with JJ and John and what they can do on the edges, and with Key and Trevor running the ball it’s a pretty good mix. And certainly, Cam is capable of some big-time throws. I don’t know how much more we’re going to expand this year, but I feel like when it comes down to the end of the game there, we needed a few more things to call to get that first down.
“We’re just so vanilla on offense right now. We’re having to spend so much time right now teaching these first-year players on defense, so the offense takes a back seat trying to make sure we can get some stops.
“We’ll start this week with a period or two of each practice focused on [next opponent] Cave Spring. I’d say 80 percent of our practice is just fundamental, trying to get better, special teams trying to get better. And defense – taking on blocks and getting off blocks. Twenty percent of each practice will be geared to getting ready to play Cave.
After the Knights, the Cougars face an improved Hidden Valley and then old rival Salem.
“Yeah, there’s no rest for the weary,” Dixon said. “We have to continue to improve. The hardest part of our schedule is coming. These young guys are buying in and doing what we’re asking. I’m happy where we’re at, but we’re not satisfied.”
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot