The Pulaski County football team will open the 2018 season on the road in Roanoke Friday evening against long standing rival Northside. The Vikings took the measure of the Cougars last season in the lid-lifter in Dobson Stadium, 38-28. Pulaski County leads the all-time series between the two schools, 20-13.
Both squads are coming off 6-4 seasons of a year ago, and coming out on top in the opener is huge for both. The Cougars are a Class 4 member of the River Ridge District, the Vikings a Class 3 member of the Blue Ridge.
Pulaski County is coming off what was likely its toughest off-season and pre-season in a number of years. In June the Cougars attended a three-day contact camp and competed against Class 4 power Dinwiddie and Class 3 power Lord Botetourt. Two weeks ago at the Touchdown Classic they battled always strong Magna Vista and defending West Virginia state champion Bluefield. Last Friday the team defeated Radford in a “Benefit” contest.
“We needed a tougher off season and preseason too,” said head coach Stephen James. “We’re going to be depending upon a lot of underclass players this season, and we needed to put them under as much fire as possible in the effort to get ready. We also just needed to crank things up a bit.”
The Cougar boss says Friday at Northside will be much like Cougar fans are accustomed to seeing. “Northside has good size. They play a physical style of football, and can make a big play too. They have some speed. We’re going to have to be a sharper, more focused team than we were at Radford last Friday. We need to execute better, eliminate the mistakes, no fumbles, no pass interceptions, just do the job. You always worry about a lot of things coming into the first game. We just need to be focused, and sharper.”
James says his Pulaski County team is a bit different from last season. “Last year we had to rely on the pass most of the time to move the football. We want a more balanced offensive attack this season. We need to run the ball better, and defensively we need to stop the run a lot better. We need more possession time than last season. It’s hard to say exactly what type of pass and run mix we want. Some of that will be determined by the game, and what they the opponent is doing defensively, but we need to be well rounded. I’m confident we can be. We’re better at the line of scrimmage this season on both sides of the football.”
The thing that has pleased the Cougar head coach the most, all during off-season workouts, and the preseason doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with athletic ability. It has to do with attitude. “I like our team. We’ve got a good group of young men. They are all concerned about the team, not individual stuff. They have worked hard. They want to win, be successful. I think our team will be ready to play very hard at Northside,” said James.
The Vikings are led up front by their usual array of large people. This time it’s 6-0, 274 Luke Fisher, 6-0, 278 Edward Amos, and 6-2, 310 Ethan Blank. All are returning starters from last season. Duel threat quarterback Jalen Jackson leads the Vikings offense, and he has some proven veterans to work with. The leading returning running back is quick Princeton Hall who ran for 121 yards against Pulaski County last season. Others that will be relied as runners and catchers of the football will 5-11, 175 Christian Fisher, and 5-11, 176 Darrian Johnson.
The Cougars will counter with a starting lineup on offense of Jaxon Callahan at center, a 6-1, 265 senior. The guards will be Logan Fox, a 6-1, 190 jr. and Cody Talbert, a 6-1, 250 sr. The tackles will be 6-3, 268 sophomore Clayton Phillips, and another sophomore, 6-3, 250 Cooper Dunnigan. The tight end will be 6-5, 225 jr. Dillon Porter.
The quarterback will be 6-2, 200 sr. Kade Akers coming off a 2,000 yard passing season in 2017. Returning is his leading target, 6-2, 170 wideout E.J. Horton who returns with 41 receptions and 11 touchdowns. The slot receiver will be 6-3, 210 sr. Noah O’Dell. The H-Back will be 5-9, 195 jr. Austin Gallimore, and the tailback 5-9, 175 soph. Jakari Finley, and Cougar fans can also expect to also see 6-0, 190 jr. Gage Mannon, and 5-10, 175 jr. Luke Russell carry the mail at times as well. Ryan Castle is a veteran field goal kicker, missing only one extra point kick and just one field goal attempt last season.
Defensively, the Cougars will start 5-10, 270 sr. Carter Murray at the nose up front along with tackles Ben Arnett, a 5-11, 195 sr., and Camden Mariotti, a 5-11, 200 sr. The outside linebackers/defensive ends will be O’Dell and Russell. The inside linebackers will be the Gallimore boys, brothers Austin, and 5-10, 185 Ethan. The cornerbacks will be James Jackson, a 6-3, 185 jr., and Horton. The safeties will be 5-11, 175 Chris Shay, and Mannon. The punter will be Broc Simpson. The long snapper Bryant Worrell and the holder will be Logan Burchett.
Cougar Paws– NASH 107 PSK will broadcast the game live from Roanoke Friday evening. Airtime with the Insurance Center of Dublin Pregame Show will be 6:30……….The last time the Cougars played at Northside was 2015, and the team pulled a stunning upset, winning a 22-20 thriller behind a big kick return for a touchdown by Hunter Thomas…….In other opening games of interest Friday Danville will be at LCA, Blacksburg will play at Giles, Amherst will be at Salem, E.C. Glass will host Charlottesville in Lynchburg, Jefferson Forest will be at Staunton River, Carroll County will be at Patrick County, Abingdon will play at John Battle, William Byrd will host Cave Spring, Floyd will play at Christiansburg, Patrick Henry will be at Hidden Valley, and William Fleming will travel to Heritage. Fleming will be Pulaski County’s next opponent, also on the road next Friday in Roanoke.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot