Blacksburg– The most satisfying way to win a football game is to do so through physical dominance. Pulaski County manhandled Blacksburg Friday on the road, 12-3. The win pushed the Cougars to 7-1 on the season, and dropped the Bruins to 5-3. The victory also put Pulaski Co. in excellent position to earn a home field advantage in the playoffs.
It was a game where a lot of things came together for the Cougars. The defense was totally dominant in every way, and slammed the door on one of the region’s most potent offenses. It was also a night when the Cougar offensive line came of age and controlled the line of scrimmage, and that coupled with hard running from its backs led Pulaski Co. to a victory that got rid of a lot of frustration.
Blacksburg has beaten Pulaski Co. four straight times, and the last three were all very close games. The last loss came in the second record of last year’s playoffs, but those memories were washed away as the Cougars were superior in every aspect.
The game plan was a simple one for Pulaski Co. “We wanted to pressure defensively and play very physical,” said head coach Stephen James. “Offensively we stressed all week we needed to gain four yards, control field position and drive the football. We got four yards.”
The Bruins were held to just 64 total yards for the game, and five first downs and three of those came via penalty. Blacksburg did not have a second half first down until the final minute and that was due to a penalty. The Bruins had a first down at the Cougar 11 in the first quarter and could not score. They had a first down at the Cougar 11 again late in the fourth quarter and ended up back at the 35.
“We wanted to pressure,” said James. “We wanted to be very physical. We wanted to contest everything, full out every play. It was about as good a defensive effort as I’ve ever been a part of in my coaching career. We made the great stand early, and did not let Blacksburg get the momentum. It was a terrific effort.”
And the Cougar offense grinded it out the entire game, and it became very evident that Pulaski County’s front was wearing down the Bruin defense and in the fourth quarter the Blacksburg defense broke.
“The offensive line played well,” said James. “It was their best game of the season. We told them in practice all week they were going to have to get the job done. We told them we had to have four yards every play, that was the goal. Most of the time we got the four yards. In the fourth quarter our front was blowing Blacksburg off the ball.”
It was a complete team victory for Pulaski County. The Cougars won the game in every phase, and James was extremely proud of his team’s overall performance.
“That was a great win for our team, and our program. We needed it, the kids wanted it, and they went after it and got it. We now have some momentum, and we have a much needed week off. The kids will enjoy the down time after such a great win. We got some kids back this week, and were closer to being 100%, but we still have a bunch of bumps, and physical issues. We’re going to give the team some down time, let them relax a little, and have no contact for a few days, take a couple days completely off, and try to have fresh legs and be 100% in two weeks when we have to travel to Patrick Henry. When you win a big game, it always means the next game is a little bigger. We’ll need to be ready, but tonight was really good,” smiled James.
Pulaski County’s first scoring opportunity came late in the first quarter, but A.J. McCloud’s pass was intercepted inside the Blacksburg five. The Bruins took a 3-0 lead on a 35-yard James Poland field goal with just 3:41 left in the half.
Following the kickoff and a blocking penalty the Cougars were forced to start from their own 11 with just 3:32 left in the half, but suddenly things started happening up front and PCHS used 12 plays to move into field goal range and Broc Simpson tied the game at the half with a three from 28 yards out.
In the third quarter the Cougars and Bruins split three and outs four times. Then bodies started getting knocked back at the line of scrimmage again and the Cougars used 13 plays to drive from their own 39 and Simpson hit another field goal from 27 yards out and the Cougars were out front, 6-3 with 9:27 left in the game.
At this point Blacksburg was helpless trying to block the relentless Cougar defense. The Bruins started at their won 20 and ended up punting from their own end zone. The Cougars moved inside the Bruins’ 30, but following a five-yard delay penalty, Simpson was just short from 52 yards out.
But Blacksburg had to start from its own 20 again, and quarterback Luke Goforth didn’t have a chance. He was racked up on three consecutive snaps and the Bruins were punting from their own end zone again.
This time the Cougar offense would not be denied. With a first down at the Blacksburg 32 McCloud ran for 10, then Chris Shay began carrying the mail, and he ran for five, five again, and eventually he would power over from the three against a weary Bruin defense for the clinching touchdown with 1:55 left to play. A two-point conversion attempt failed, but it made no difference and a big 12-3 win belonged to the Cougars. At that point the Cougar offense had run 33 second half plays from scrimmage, and Blacksburg had gone three and out on all four of its possessions.
The 64 total yards were easily to least in a game for the Bruins. Goforth was under tremendous heat, but he scrambled for 24 yards on nine runs and that was easily the best they could muster. Every other running back finished with lost yardage for the Bruins. Parker Epperley replaced Goforth, but together they completed only three of 14 passes and Corvin Carter got his fourth interception for the Cougars. The Bruins passed for 74 yards, but finished with minus 10 yards rushing.
Pulaski Co. did not rack up huge yards, but each yard was meaningful and allowed the Cougars to control the clock, field position, eventually overpower the Bruin defense. The Cougars garnered 15 first downs in the game.
Shay rushed 22 times for 90 yards, and Keyontae Kennedy 20 times for 89 yards. McCloud chipped in with 38 yards on 11 tries as the Cougars finished with 217 rushing yards on 53 runs. McCloud hit just one of seven passes and suffered two picks, but the one connection to John Lyman was big late in the first half for 25 yards. The Cougars finished with 242 total yards.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot