Pulaski County closed out its regular season last Friday night, falling to Christiansburg, 41-28.
The loss ended the Cougars’ hopes to reach the regional playoffs as PCHS finished the season in ninth place in Region 4D with only the top eight teams advancing.
It was close though.
Had Pulaski County beat the Blue Demons they would have hopped over Amherst County to gain the final playoff spot in the region.
Amherst did their part by losing to Heritage. But with Pulaski County falling last Friday, the Cougars came up just short by the smallest of margins. Amherst grabbed the final playoff spot with a 21.56 rating from the Virginia High School League. The Cougars (4-6, 2-4) were just 16-hundredths of a point behind the Lancers at 21.40.
As for the Cougars’ final game loss, head coach Mark Dixon thought his team played hard and gave themselves a chance to win.
“I thought we played hard and gave ourselves a chance in the first half. I thought the big turning point was the interception to start the second half. It was just a bad play call. Chris (Gallimore) did what he was supposed to do, it was just a bad play call. I thought that really stymied our momentum. That’s definitely one I’d like to have back,” Dixon said.
The two teams were tied at halftime, 7-7 with the Cougars’ score coming on a 9-yard pass from Gallimore to senior John Lyman, followed by Nathan Pratt’s PAT.
But on the first play from scrimmage after halftime, Gallimore was intercepted at the Blue Demons’ 23 by Travis Altizer and the momentum swung to Christiansburg.
They would score three times in the quarter to take command of the game at 27-7.
The Cougars rallied early in the final quarter when Gallimore hit Keyontae Kennedy on a 38-yard TD pass. Pratt’s PAT made it 27-14, Christiansburg.
From there the two teams traded scores, with Pulaski County scoring on a three-yard run by Gallimore and, with 19 second left, Lyman’s second TD of the game on an eight-yard pass from Gallimore.
Trevor Burton led the Cougars in rushing on the night with 24 carries for 109 yards. Gallimore completed 20 of 47 passes for 245 yards, but through three interceptions.
Tanner Mace led Pulaski County with five receptions for 81 yards, while Kennedy had seven catches for 80 yards.
“I think they’re proud of the effort they gave, certainly I’m proud of them,” Dixon said of his Cougars following the loss.
“I think moving forward I everyone understands where we’re at and what we have to do. The kids are already back in the weight room. The majority came right back in the weight room and are already working again. I was happy with their response to it.”
And so, the season comes to a close and while the Cougars didn’t get into the playoffs, Dixon believes there were positives for the team.
“It was a tough year in a lot of ways and in a lot of ways it was the very first year,” Dixon said. “We established some things I think we have to establish to be consistent over time.
“Last season didn’t even feel like a first year, honestly. I think we had one practice outside before our first game and it seemed like we practiced seven or eight times. Everything was just so fast.
“This year we kind of implemented everything. I think we all knew there would be growing pains. We got tremendous support from the administration and parents, and I think everyone understands what we’re hoping to accomplish. Everybody’s pulling on the rope in the same direction.”
Looking back over his first full season at PCHS, Dixon said the team kept coming back from adversity.
“We got going good there for a while then we lost a couple linemen, all within kind of two weeks,” he said. “Then we had to kind of re-group there. We were kind of trying to chase it and find the answers from that point on.
“Really I thought the Christiansburg game was the first game we started to play well again. Just a shame we didn’t have anymore contests because I thought we had finally found our footing again with all these young guys that had played enough by then to kind of understand what we were trying to do.
“The kids did a wonderful job and we had great senior leadership. They kept it positive even though we knew we were going through some growing pains. The kids are very intelligent and understood what we were going to have to go through.
“The positive thing of it all is at game 10 we come out and play one of our better games. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. I thought we fought all the way to the bitter end. And that’s going to carry them way further in life than anything else,” Dixon said.
Dixon couldn’t pick one moment of the season as the team’s high point, but he did say he thought the James Wood game was the highpoint in terms of performance and having to make plays to win.
“I thought, you know, we had a 10th grader make a play to win that football game. Hey, it was a heck of a play he made. Have it not end up that way is bittersweet, but at the end of the day we know he’s coming back and he’s talented enough to make that type of play so that’s exciting,” Dixon said.
The Cougars lost that game at home against Wood, 34-33 after a penalty gave the visitors the ball back for a game-winning score following what appeared to be a game-winning interception by sophomore Cougar, Brett Jones.
With the end of the season, the Cougars say goodbye to eight seniors: John Lyman, JJ Gulley, Keyontae Kennedy, Caleb Yelton, Jack Johnson, Tyler Sutherland, Felipe Aguilar and DeMarcus Hayden.
Dixon was highly complementary of his seniors.
“Tremendous leadership. Tremendous kids. Tremendous families. As good a group of seniors as I’ve ever been around, and I mean that’s from state championship teams to basketball teams when we didn’t win a game when I was at Galax or only won one or two. In terms of a group of seniors who understood what we were doing and that there’s a bigger picture out there, I have no question that ten years from now these seniors will be successful. And to me that’s what this deal is all about,” Dixon said.
While the Cougars aren’t playoff bound, eight teams in Region 4D are. Top seed Salem will host Amherst County. No. 2 seed George Washington – Danville will host Orange. No. 3 seed Western Albemarle will host Halifax County and No. 4 seed E.C. Glass hosts Louisa County.
These first-round games will be played Friday night starting at 7 p.m.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot