Vinton– There are a lot of ways to win a football game. Sometimes it just takes grit. Sometimes you just have to keep lining up every play, grind it out until you figure it out. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but sheer effort pulls you through. That might sum it up for Pulaski County Friday night as the Cougars gave a dogged effort in overtaking William Byrd in the fourth quarter to win, 19-14.
The first half in a word was dismal for Pulaski County, and it started off real bad when senior Landon McDaniel suffered a serious leg injury on the opening kickoff. McDaniel underwent surgery and will be lost for the season. The Cougars went three and out five times in the first half, and trailed at the break, 14-0. It was the first time this season the Cougars had trailed in a game.
Byrd had a 14-0 lead, but also had not done that much offensively either. A pass interception gave the ball to the Terriers at the Cougar 20 and three plays later Josh Moore scored from four yards out. Two possessions later Terrier quarterback Logan Baker rolled to his left and found a streaking Tyler Dean uncovered behind the Cougar secondary and it resulted in a 56-yard touchdown. Those were the only two plays of consequence in the first half for either team.
It would be an uphill climb all the way for Pulaski County to get to 4-0. It would take big plays out of the defense and special teams to get things rolling, and that’s what happened. But it didn’t happen all at once. It was a grind every single snap.
Luke Russell picked off a pass for the Cougars and ran to the Byrd 10, but a clipping penalty moved the ball back to the Terrier 25. Pulaski Co. could not move, but enter Broc Simpson, but he missed his first field goal attempt of the season from 42 yards, wide right.
Back to the grind, still down, 14-0. The defense put the clamps on Byrd, allowing only 49 nets yards in the second half. It was three and out for the Terriers, and the Cougars took over at the Byrd 41. A penalty moved the ball back to the 49. Quarterback A.J. McCloud passed eight yards to Chase Dotson who came up big this night taking over for the injured McDaniel. An interference call on the Terriers got the ball to the 28. Keyontae Kennedy ran for seven to the 23. A McCloud pass on a crossing pattern to Chris Shay went for nine to the 14. Then McCloud and Dotson hooked up on a 14-yard slant over the middle for the touchdown. Simpson kicked the conversion and with 4:54 left in the third quarter the Cougars had cut the margin to, 14-7.
Following the kickoff Byrd went three and out, and then up steps the special teams big play. Russell stormed up the gut to block the punt. Christian Finn jumped on the pigskin at the Byrd 20. But the Cougars were still struggling to move the football and after three plays called on Simpson again and this time he was perfect from 37 yards for three and the scored was, 14-10 with 11:53 left in the game.
Up steps the defense again. On third down Austin Gallimore and Tristan Bowden sacked Baker for a big loss. Then Logan Burchett picked up the bouncing punt on the gallop and zipped 21 yards to the Byrd 24. McCloud connected with Dotson again for 10 to the 14, but the Cougars were stopped again. Simpson enters the fray and this time his field goal was perfect from 31 yards out and with 8:39 left to play Pulaski Co. was within one, 14-13.
Byrd managed to the move the ball following the kickoff and worked its way to the Pulaski Co. 35, but on fourth and one, rather than punt and put the Cougars deep, Byrd coach Brad Lutz elected to go for the first down. Baker was swarmed over by Cougar nose tackle Tyler Brookman, Russell, and Gage Mannon for a four-yard loss back to the 39.
With 6:31 left to play the Cougars were still 61 yards away from paydirt. But suddenly the explosion came. McCloud hit Dotson on a out, he broke a tackle and gained 21 big yards to the Terrier 39. Byrd jumped off sides and the pigskin was placed on the 34. Then McCloud hit Layne Suthers on a quick slant over the middle in traffic. Suthers shook off the tackle attempt, reversed his field and did not go down until 28 yards later and it was first and goal for the Cougars at the Byrd six.
A delay penalty moved the ball back to the 11, but on the next play McCloud tossed a swing pass into the right flat to Mannon. He got the corner, ran through the safety and headed for the promised land. “My route out of the backfield was just a swing type of thing. It was designed for me to hopefully catch the pass wider than their defensive end. Then I just need to beat the corner, and that’s what happened,” said a smiling Mannon. The Cougars went for two and a seven-point lead. It failed, but for the first time in the game Pulaski Co. was in front, 19-14 with 4:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Now back to the defense. Following the kickoff Byrd was able to move the ball to the Cougar 28 with the big play being a 18-yard pass from Baker to Dean. But the clock was winding down and Byrd had already used two of its timeouts earlier in the half. Only a touchdown would be good enough. Then it happened. Baker rolled to his right looking downfield. Just outside the hash he got his body turned and prepared to fire the pigskin downfield. Then boom! Outside backer Ethan Gallimore dropped the hammer on Baker, knocking him through the air. The ball came loose, and Russell was all over it. There were only 51 ticks left on the clock. Game over. Cougars win!
Once again defense and special teams led to Cougars. Russell blocked a punt, picked off a pass, and recovered a fumble. Finn had his fumble recovery. Corvin Carter stopped a first half Byrd threat with his third pass interception. If Pulaski Co. was going to have a chance to win, the defense had to slam the door on the Byrd offense the second half. It did.
Still, Byrd managed more total yards in the game, finishing with 215. Baker was 13 of 27 passing for 146 yards, but suffered the two interceptions. Neither team could get much done with the ground game. The Terriers finished with 69 yards on 26 runs.
Pulaski Co. managed only 184 total yards, but in the second half, almost every one of them was valuable. The Cougars could run for only 59 yards on 26 attempts, only 2.2 yards per rush. McCloud was only 12 of 25 passing, and suffered a pick, but he connected on enough to get the job done, and some of them were some of the biggest plays in the game. His 12 completions went for 125 yards. Dotson caught four passes for 50 yards, Suthers two for 32, and Chris Shay four for 17 to lead the way.
The Cougars return home to Dobson Stadium next Friday when they entertain Cave Spring in a River Ridge District game.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot