Cougars open playoffs at Danville

It’s been a long time, 18 years in fact since Pulaski County and GW-Danville have locked horns on a football field. The two staged some dramatic playoff confrontations back in the 80s and 90s. During those days, if you were to make a run at the Group AAA state championship, you first had to get through Pulaski County or Danville, or both. The series between the two programs is close and the Cougars lead 7-6. The last time the two faced off is also a good memory for the Cougars, a big 42-12 rout over the Eagles in 2000.

Region 4D opens Friday with Pulaski County, 7-3 on the season out of the River Ridge, on the road at GW-Danville, 8-2 out of the Piedmont District. GW is the home team by virtue of its 4th power rating, the Cougars the 5th rated team.

The Eagles are led by a set of twins. Carlos Poole (6-3, 175) is 57 of 106 passing for 938 yards and has also rushed for 642 yards and seven touchdowns. Carl Poole (6-1, 195) is the team’s leading tackler at linebacker, and also a running back when necessary. Wesley Graves is a heavy 217 lb. running back along with quick Willie Edmunds. Graves and Edmunds have combined for 1,764 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns.

Shawn Watlington is the leading receiver for Danville with 29 catches for 639 yards. The Eagles have gained 3,845 yards of total offense on the season, almost 400 yards per game, averaging 38.8 points a game, and allowing only 11.4. The points scored and points allowed are very similar. Pulaski County has scored 379 points, 37.9 per game, and allowed 167, 16.7 per game. The Cougars are averaging 352.1 yards of offense per game. GW has scored a little more and allowed just a bit less, but has also played a lesser schedule. The Eagles do not own a victory over a team with a winning record, and their only two losses came to 7-3 Jefferson Forest, and 6-4 Franklin County, their opponents with winning records.

Gage Mannon has rushed for 790 yards and 17 touchdowns for 102 points to lead PCHS. Jakari Finley has rushed for 793 yards. Kade Akers has connected on 78 of 140 passes, 49% for 1,117 yards. E.J. Horton has caught 37 for 627 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns for 66 points. Noah O’Dell has 20 receptions for 306 yards. Akers has scored 10 touchdowns, and Ryan Castle is 46 of 50 on extra-point kicks, and five of seven on field goals for 61 kicking points.

Danville is led defensively by huge nose tackle Bryson Akers, 6-1, 340, and 6-2, 290 Jaylen Williamson along with linebackers Zi Gunter, 5-11, 230 and Carl Poole, 6-1, 195. Offensively Tylee Myers, 6-0, 275, and Marquis Worsham, 6-3, 258 lead the way up front.

“Obviously Danville is pretty good or they wouldn’t be here,” says Cougar head coach Stephen James. “They run a spread offense, have speed, a duel threat quarterback, good running backs, and players than can make plays. We’ll need to play very well defensively. Offensively, we need to block ’em. They will want to run the ball, but are very capable of making a play in the passing game. Poole is a threat to run or throw. We need to be where we’re supposed to be. We’ve relied on quickness defensively this season. We’ll need to be very quick against Danville.”

It’s game 11. You’ve made the playoffs. You’re where you wanted to be. Do you change anything? “No,” says James. “It’s just like any other game from that standpoint. We may tweek a few things according to how Danville does things on offense or defense, but we are who we are. We do what we do, and hope we do it real good.”

It’s hard to say what type of game this will be. One reason is there is no common opponent. The teams don’t keep up with each other during the season and haven’t for years. “You can’t say it’s an offensive or defensive game,” said James, “because you really don’t know. You just have to get into it, but to win it the keys never really change. We need to have a good game offensively, put some points on the board. We’ll try to stop them for doing the same, but that will be difficult. But you always try to play a clean game, cut down on the penalties, no turnovers, execute well, play the best game you can play. Everything is important.”

Obviously, from this points it’s “sudden death” or “sudden victory,” however you want to look at it for all the teams as the playoffs open. The Cougars will want to win very much, and hope for a rematch with Blacksburg next week in the second round.

The starting offense for Pulaski County will be 6-1, 265 senior center Jaxson Callahan, the guards are 6-1, 290 junior Logan Fox and 5-10, 270 sr. Carter Murray, the tackles 6-3, 272 sophomore Clayton Phillips and 6-3, 260  soph. Cooper Dunnigan. The tight end is 6-5, 225 jr. Dillon Porter. The quarterback is 6-2, 200 sr. Kade Akers, the tailback 6-0, 190 jr. Gage Mannon, the wide receivers 6-0, 170 sr. E.J. Horton and 5-10, 150 jr. Logan Burchett, the H-Back is 5-9, 195 jr. Austin Gallimore, and the slot is 6-3, 210 sr. Noah O’Dell. Ryan Castle is the kicker.

Defensively, the tackles will be 5-11, 195 sr. Ben Arnett, 5-11, 200 sr. Camden Mariotti, and 5-10, 270 soph. Zeke Surber. The edges will be manned by O’Dell, and 5-10, 185 soph. Ethan Gallimore. The inside linebackers will be Austin Gallimore and 5-10, 175 jr. Luke Russell. The secondary will have Mannon, 5-11, 175 jr. Chris Shay, Akers, and either Horton, A.J. McCloud, or Xavier Cobbs. Broc Simpson is the punter.

Cougar Paws:

In other major playoff games in Region 4D important to Pulaski County, top seed Blacksburg (10-0) hosts 8th seeded Liberty Christian (4-6), second seeded E.C. Glass (9-1) hosts 7th seeded William Byrd (7-3) in Lynchburg, and third seeded Salem (7-3) hosts 6th seeded Jefferson Forest (7-3). … The opening round Pulaski County vs. Danville playoff game will be broadcast live from Danville on NASH 107/PSK. Airtime will be 6:15 with the Insurance Center of Dublin Pregame Game. … The winner will face the winner of the Blacksburg vs. LCA game on the road next Friday.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot

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