Once again, it’s time for Pulaski County and Salem to battle on the gridiron. Most of the time there is considerable at stake when the two programs meet and certainly that is the case on this occasion. Home field advantage is at stake which means the winner plays at home next week when the playoffs begin and the loser plays somewhere they would rather not go.
This will be the 45th time the two programs have faced off. Salem leads the series 26-19, and that’s because the Spartans have won the last eight. Twice Salem has defeated the Cougars two times in the same season because of playing both during the regular season and the playoffs. Just six years ago, Pulaski County led the series 19-18. Pulaski County comes into this battle as the third rated team in Region 4D at 7-2 on the season. Salem is 6th rated and 6-3. How close is this game on paper? The teams have faced six like opponents. Add up the number of points scored by each team against that same opposition and also points allowed and the total difference is one. One single point.
Salem is still considered the favorite in the eyes of most, but the issue will be decided on the field. The Spartans have won the last three Class 4 state championships and are 83-11 over the past seven seasons. The Spartans over those seven years are averaging 11.5 wins per season, and just 1.5 losses. That the highest efficiency rating in the state for any classification. However, this is 2018, a different season, and all those things in the past will not be on the field Friday evening in Salem.
The Cougars are coming off a huge 56-19 win over Patrick Henry last week that put them in position to attaining their loftiest seeding when the playoffs begin next Friday in 10 years. It’s impossible to say with certainly what happens as far as seeding is concerned because of so many situations beyond your control, but make no mistake, a Cougar win would mean the third seed and a home playoff game in Dobson Stadium next Friday against either GW-Danville, Jefferson Forest, and possibly another matchup with Salem.
Blacksburg (9-0) is the top rated team in Region 4D at 30.11, E.C. Glass (8-1) is number two at 29.78. Pulaski Co. is third with a rating of 26.56, Forest (7-2) is fourth at 26.00, Danville(7-2) is 5th at 26.33, Salem 6th at 25.22, Wm. Byrd (7-2) 7th at 23.11, and LCA 8th at 21.13. This game plus the Jefferson Forest at Heritage game in Lynchburg, will greatly determine what happens to all four teams rated 3 through 6. Where they finish, who they play, where they play. The region is strong in 2018. There are eight teams that will enter action Friday with two losses or less.
There are next to no secrets where this game is concerned. It will be a physical matchup. Nobody will have to go looking for the other guys in the other colored uniforms. The opposition will be standing right in front of you. It’s the kind of game that you wish all of them were.
PCHS head coach Stephen James believes the win over PH last week should give him team confidence heading into the confrontation with Salem. “I think this is a confident team. These kids will not get back down because of Salem’s reputation. I believe our kids like a big game. This is big. We’ll be ready to play, and I think our kids will be very excited.”
James say there are no mysteries concerning Salem. “They are very fundamental, they do the same things. They execute well so that means so will we have to do the same. They have size. They play physical. They will bring the ball right to us with a big, proven strong offensive line. Isiah Pursinger is a good tailback, but you must also stop the fullback. Jack Gladden the quarterback can hurt you with play action passes. It’s like all the other times. You just have to prepare for what Salem does.”
Week to week, all season long, the most consistent aspect for Pulaski County has been the play of its defense. This appears to be a classic matchup of Salem’s size and strength against the Cougars’ quickness and aggression.
“That’s true,” says James. “We like our defense. It has given us a chance to win all season. We think they can do the same at Salem. Those kids will get after it, but this is a game that will be decided in all areas. Big games are all the same in that you must play both sides of the football. We need to execute well offensively, block ’em. No turnovers, no penalties, and we must play well on special teams. It’s going to take all of it.”
The Salem defense is led by down linemen Da’Jon Cardwell, 6-0, 294 and Luke Grinnell, 6-0, 295. The top tacklers are large, experienced linebackers Avery Close, 6-5, 235 and Bobby Pinello, 6-3, 240.
Pulaski County will counter with an offensive line led by center Jaxson Callahan, 6-1, 265 senior, guards Logan Fox, 6-1, 290 junior, and Carter Murray, 5-10, 270 sr. The tackles will be a couple of sophomores, 6-3, 260 Cooper Dunnigan and 6-3, 272 Clayton Phillips, the tight end jr. Dillon Porter, 6-5, 225. The quarterback will be 6-2, 200 sr. Kade Akers, the slot jr. Logan Burchett, the H-Back 5-9, 195 jr. Austin Gallimore, Sr. E.J. Horton will be the wideout, 6-0, 190 jr. Gage Mannon the tailback and Ryan Castle the kicker.
Defensively, the Cougars will stack up 5-11, 195 sr. Ben Arnett, 5-11, 200 sr. Cam Mariotti, and 5-10, 270 soph. Zeke Surber at the down tackles. Noah O’Dell, a 6-3, 210 sr. and Ethan Gallimore, a 5-10, 185 soph will play the edges, the inside backers will be Austin Gallimore, and 5-10, 175 jr. Luke Russell. The secondary will have Horton, Akers, Mannon, and 5-11, 175 jr. Chris Shay. Broc Simpson is the punter.
In other games of interest to Pulaski County Friday evening GW-Danville will face Halifax, Cave Spring will play Hidden Valley, Blacksburg and Christiansburg played Thursday, Lee High is at Abingdon, Glass travels to Amherst, and Forest is at Heritage. … The game in Salem will be broadcast live on NASH 107/PSK. Airtime will be 6:15 with the Insurance Center of Dublin Pregame Show. … Next week’s opponent and where for Pulaski County is unknown at this point as the 4B playoffs get underway.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot