Both teams will enter the fray with identical 6-1 records Friday, however, Pulaski County is as major an underdog as it will be in the 2017 season at Blacksburg. The Bruins already own lopsided wins over Amherst, Salem, and Patrick Henry, are the defending Class 3 state champions, and currently ranked second in Class 4, Region D, and a definite contender for a second straight state crown.
This will be the 18th time the two schools have met on the gridiron. The Cougars hold an 11-6 advantage, but last season Blacksburg stopped a Pulaski County six-year winning streak with a close, 17-13 win.
This is a contest between two teams with major firepower. So far, the Bruins have proven substantially they have more firepower than anybody. Tailback Cole Beck committed to Virginia Tech last week, he ran for over 300 yards against Salem, and many think he is the fastest high school football player in the nation. Tiquest Terry is a game breaker with great quickness at wide receiver who can also lineup and run the ball. Grant Johnston is a strapping 6-5, 200 quarterback who can deliver the pigskin.
But it does not stop there. There are additional weapons all over the field for Blacksburg and that includes at the line of scrimmage. Pulaski County will be tested in all areas. Gideon Driscoll, has been a dynamic player on the defensive front at 6-5, 265. Davis Robertson, 6-3, 300, is a proven veteran on the line, and so is 6-0, 265 Matt Elliott.
Without question Blacksburg is the most important game of the season to date for Pulaski County. Cougar head coach Stephen James, his team, and coaching staff are all acutely aware of that. On paper it appears to be a contest between the two teams with the most firepower in the area. Can Pulaski County match the Bruins’ strike force?
Blacksburg has scored 47 points vs. Amherst, 49 vs. Salem, 42 vs. Patrick Henry, and 49 vs. Cave Spring. “Obviously we need a great defensive effort,” says James. “But we also need to move the football on offense. We need to make plays, and need to avoid bad plays, mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. We must play a clean game, our best game. We are very aware of their offensive weapons, speed, and play makers, but we need to match up and do a good job at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
Can the Cougars put enough points on the board? “We think we can. We match up well in the play making areas. We just need to make them. We need to get some first downs. We need to make Blacksburg work hard. They are going to score some points, and when they do, we need to keep our heads up and continue the fight because we can put points on the board too,” said James.
But in games like this, it’s not always the headliners that determine the outcome. More often than not, it’s execution, turnovers, the kicking game, and making the defensive stop at the right time.
“That’s certainly going to be a factor,” said James. “Getting on and off the field will be big. There are going to be big plays made offensively by both teams in this game, but who makes the big defensive play, who comes up with the most important stop. How do you manage field position? Do you get a good kicking game? It’s all three phases, offensive, defense, and special teams. To win a game like this, we must be at our best in all those areas,” added James.
Pulaski County must get a big game out of its potent passing game that features record breaking passer Kade Akers, and wide receivers Kellen Dalton. E.J. Horton, Mason Clark, and Braeden Blevins. The Cougars have also put up some big numbers, scoring 62 on William Fleming, 49 on Carroll County, 44 on Hidden Valley, and 52 on Christiansburg.
The rest of the offense will lineup Jaxon Callahan at center, Cody Talbert and Logan Fox at the guards, Chandler Dunnigan and Brody Fields at the tackles, Noah Bradley at tight end, and Jaceri Eaves and Jaylin Nowlin will share time at running back. Ryan Castle who is 27 of 29 on extra point kicks and six for six on field goals is the kicker.
Defensively, Pulaski County will play Noah O’Dell and Eaves on the edges, the interior tackles will be Ben Arnett, John Minick and Camden Mariotti. Dunnigan, Fields, Fox, and Talbert could all see some time on the defensive front as well. The inside linebackers and the team’s leading tacklers are Alex Akers and Reymon Williams.
The secondary will lineup Dalton and Horton at the corners, and Conner Martin and Gage Mannon at the safeties. But James Jackson, and Nowlin will also see action and Martin is the punter.
Cougars Paws: If you cannot make it to Blacksburg for the game it will be broadcast live over NASH/107 PSK. Airtime is 6:30 with the Insurance Center of Dublin pregame show. In other games in Class 4, Region D, and in the River Ridge District important to Pulaski County, PH plays at Cave, Fleming is at Wm. Byrd, Jefferson-Forest travels to E.C. Glass, Hidden Valley is at Christiansburg, Liberty is at Amherst, Magna Vista travels to GW-Danville, Charlottesville plays at Albemarle, and Heritage of Lynchburg will host Liberty Christian.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot