Do or die time for Cougars Friday night vs. Christiansburg

Cougar football helmetBy MASON CLARK

The Patriot

It’s do or die time for the Pulaski County Cougar football team Friday night as they travel to Christiansburg to renew their rivalry with the Blue Demons.

The Cougars need a win to keep their hopes for a playoff spot alive.

The Blue Demons and Cougars have played each of the last 23 years, but the Blue Demons have been playing Pulaski County teams for about a hundred years. They were in the New River District with the Dublin Dukes and the Pulaski Orioles. Against Pulaski, Christiansburg didn’t really have a lot of success. “The Flock” as the Orioles were sometimes called won the last ten meetings, every year from 1964-1973. Not only that, but they shut out Christiansburg in six of the last seven meetings and never allowed more than seven points in the last ten meetings. If you go by the NRD series, the Orioles won 11 of 14 meetings. The last meeting between the two was a 41-0 Oriole win at Calfee Park.

Against Dublin, the going wasn’t much better for C’Burg. Dublin won nine of the last ten in the series, and 12 of the 15 meetings when the New River District was in existence. The last game between these two was a 34-6 Duke victory.

After September 7th of 1973, we went 26 years without seeing Christiansburg in a football game. For the grand majority of that time, it was probably for the better as far as Christiansburg is concerned. The first meeting between the two came on August 27th of 1999. Led by sophomore sensation Josh Calfee, Pulaski County crushed the Demons, 51-0. The next year, it was almost the same, this time 54-0 as the 2000 team got their season underway. In 2001, Calfee and Jeremy Porter led the way in a game that the Cougars gutted the Demons 56-0. This is tied for the largest margin of victory in PCHS football history. That’s three games, and a total score of 161-0, an average of 54-0.

The next three meetings weren’t quite as bad, but still very lopsided in favor of the Cougars. 35-12 was the score in 2002, then in Coach Turner’s first year it was 47-19 in 2003, and Kevin Crouse led the way in 2004 to a 49-20 win. Up to this point, it was 6-0 Cougars, and 292-51 total, which would be about 49-9 on average.

I bet the 2005 game really surprised many. Despite a great performance from Crouse again, the Cougars got beat just like they had beat the Demons many times before, 49-6. Then in 2006, the Cougs did good to score 35 points, but still fell 41-35. This game is tied with the 1998 game against Lee for the most points scored in a loss.

Things got back on track in 2007. Led by speedster Nubian Peak, Pulaski County travelled to Christiansburg and won 39-19. In 2008, on Halloween night, Peak again led the way to a big Cougar win, this time 28-7.

But this is when things got rough in the rivalry for PC. The 2009 season was hard, and a 26-19 loss to the Demons didn’t help. This began the greatest three-year run in Blue Demon football history, as they went a combined 34-7 from 2009 to 2011. They went 10-4 in 2009, losing to Amherst County in the state semifinals. 2010 was the one and only 10-0 season in Christiansburg history, and so they beat us again 27-17. The Demons would lose to Harrisonburg in a snowstorm, just one game short of the state championship game. And then, in what was probably the best team in Christiansburg history, the Demons beat PCHS 41-19. Christiansburg would come up just short in the state championship game that year, falling to future Penn State superstar Trace McSorley and Bruar Woods, 28-26. They lost star QB and safety Brenden Motley, who is likely the best player in Christiansburg history.

In 2012, Joey Augustin led the way for the Demons but the Cougars pulled off a big upset, winning 17-14. Christiansburg would get back though with two consecutive wins, 30-14 in 2013 and 28-8 in 2014.

But this would set up a run in the series for the Cougars. In 2015, Hunter Thomas scored the game winning touchdown with a few seconds remaining to pull off a 14-6 win. Then in 2016 the Cougs won 42-0, 52-27 in 2017, and 42-28 in 2018. The 2019 game was closer, but the Cougars still won 14-6. And then in the spring 2021 season, the Cougars were too much, with a 28-7 win. Then last season, despite a solid performance, the Cougars came up short to the 10-2 Blue Demons, by a score of 41-28. Christopher Gallimore threw the football 48 times in that one game. This season, through 9 games, he has 49 pass attempts.

The Cougars lead the series 15-8, including six of the last seven. They will look to make it seven of the last eight, and they would have to in order to make the playoffs.

Pulaski County Preview
The Cougars are now 4-5, and in danger of a second consecutive 4-6 season and missing the playoffs. The Cougars have scored 252 points on the year, and the defense has allowed 240. That’s an average of 28 points per game and allowing about 26.7 a game. With a win, the Cougars would most likely find their way into a playoff game. It will be on the road if they were to make it. But with a loss, it will be the first back-to-back losing seasons for Pulaski County since the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and the first time missing the playoffs in back-to-back years since the 2009 and 2010 seasons.

Trevor Burton has been the main offensive player. He has 185 rush attempts for 1,363 yards and 25 touchdowns. With one more rushing touchdown, he will tie the current school record, held by Craig Hodge set during the 1996 season. With two more rushing touchdowns, he will set the single season rushing touchdown record and tie the single-season total touchdown record. And with three more touchdowns in any form, he will set the signal-season total touchdown record. All of that is very much possible, as he’s scored three or more touchdowns in four games so far this year.

Christopher Gallimore is now 23/49 passing for 349 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air. He has ran the ball for 469 yards and 3 touchdowns as well, giving him 818 total yards and 5 total touchdowns. Sophomore Taner Mace has rushed 33 times for 188 yards and a touchdown and has now caught 6 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, giving him 304 combined yards and 2 touchdowns. Junior Brett Jones has now missed a couple of games due to an injury, but he has contributed well when called upon with 21 runs for 158 yards and a touchdown as well as 2 catches for 41 yards. Marcus Reed was unable to go Friday night, but has still played well with 8 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown. Davis Neel had a good game Friday night, and now has 5 catches for 37 yards. Zach Parker and Tyler Underwood have also contributed on the ground, including Underwood’s long scoring run to break the ice against Patrick Henry.

But you cannot begin to give any of those guys props without the offensive line first being mentioned. Sometimes it seems offensive line is always forgotten, but it shouldn’t be. Evan Alger, Aiden Moore, Nolan Dalton, Diego Turner and Hunter Hill should be credited with each and every yard and touchdown mentioned earlier. None of those guys would do any of that if not for the five guys up front.

On defense, Alan Fernandez has done well at his nose guard spot. Diego Turner and Jack Allen are the defensive ends. Inside linebackers are Evan Alger and Tyler Underwood, and the outside linebackers are Trevor Burton and Nicholas Woolwine. The secondary is the group where they’re have been a little bit more changes. You’ll see Taner Mace at safety and Zach Parker at cornerback. Christopher Gallimore has been playing safety in Brett Jones’ absence. Freshman Bryant Nottingham has been seeing more and more time at cornerback as well. Cole Boone, another freshman, also was on the field some on Friday. Lots of youth in the secondary makes things a little more challenging now, but it may pay off later.

Special teams has been good. Zach Parker has a kickoff return touchdown on the season. Nathan Pratt has done good kicking extra points as well as punting. The coverage teams have done good most of the year, really except the Salem game. We will need a good outing from the special teams units if we want to win Friday night.

Christiansburg Preview
The Blue Demons are in the middle of a good stretch. They come into Friday at 6-3, with losses to just 8-1 Salem (6-0), 8-1 Radford (21-20), and 7-2 Patrick Henry (37-14). The Demons are just 9 points away from being 8-1 on the year, and have only lost to really good teams.

The quarterback for the Demons will be familiar to Cougar fans. Cam Cooper is the QB for Christiansburg. He was off to a good start last season with 731 yards and 7 touchdown passes before an injury ended his junior campaign. He has been successful when playing for the Blue Demons. However, Cooper has only played in about half the games for Christiansburg. When in, he’s been successful. It is unclear whether or not he will be out there Friday night. I’m sure he’d love to play against and of course beat his former team.

If he isn’t at quarterback, junior Tanner Evans will be under center. Evans is usually the shortest player on the field, but he may be the strongest player on the field, pound for pound. The junior has been a good player for the Blue Demons his entire career, and is explosive, strong, and tough to tackle in space. He is also a very capable passer as well, as he threw two touchdown passes last week against a strong Cave Spring defense, as PCHS knows. He accounted for all three touchdowns in the big win-throwing two of them to Jayron Thompson, and running for one. He also had a touchdown pass from his running back spot against Blacksburg as well as a rushing touchdown that night. Another good performance for him was against William Byrd, going 11/15 for 155 yards and 2 touchdowns. Evans is the best player for Christiansburg on offense, at least at the skill positions.

Jayron Thompson is probably their fastest player. He’s usually a receiver and has done well receiving, as noted with his two touchdown catches last week. The Demons are very big up front. They have played very well on defense as well.

They got their season started with a 34-0 win over Floyd County, who has had a solid year so far. The next week, they defeated Abingdon by a score of 22-13. In week three, they travelled to Vinton and soundly defeated the William Byrd Terriers, 41-0. They were 3-0.

They were beat by a very good Radford team in quite the thriller of a game, 21-20. Then the next week, they played Salem and gave the Spartans all they wanted and more, coming up just short to them in a 6-0 slugfest. They had suddenly lost two straight, but when those teams are 16-2 combined and are both expected to compete for state championships in their respective divisions, it doesn’t seem as bad, especially considering that they were a total of 9 points away from winning both games.

They rebounded with a 41-0 thumping of ailing Blacksburg. The next week, they took down Hidden Valley, 43-17. A trip to Patrick Henry didn’t treat them so kindly, as they fell to the super-fast Patriots by score of 37-14. But last week, they were very impressive, leading Cave Spring 21-0 at the half and cruising to a 24-14 win. With that, the Demons are 6-3, average about 26.6 points per game and allow about 12 a game. That includes three shutouts, four games holding opponents to under ten points, and just two teams to score over 18 points in a game. Christiansburg resembles Salem a lot-that’s not to say they’re as good as Salem, but the physical brand of football they play and their run-first philosophy does reflect the Spartans.

Enough cannot be said about the job that Alex Wilkens has done. In 2017, he took over a program that was 3-17 the previous two seasons. He took his lumps in year one, going winless. But it got better. The Blue Demons were noticeably better in 2018, going 2-9 and being competitive in just about every game. They continued to climb in 2019, going 5-6 and also being competitive in just about every game. The spring season of 2021 wasn’t too kind to them, as they went 3-4. But had they played their full season, they most likely would’ve gone 7-3 or so. Then last year, after building for a while, the Demons finally got back to being really good. They finished 9-1, only losing to Salem. They reached 10-2, losing in what can at least be said to be a controversial call in the playoff game against Lord Botetourt. It has been a very impressive turnaround in Christiansburg, and with their JV team playing well, don’t expect it to stop in the next few years.

Playoff Implicarions
We have to win. It’s that simple. If the season ended at the moment, the Cougars would be watching the playoffs from home, as we are at ninth place in an eight-team playoff system.

First place is EC Glass. The Hilltoppers are 8-1. Second place are the Louisa County Lions, who are a perfect 9-0. Third place is the 8-1 Salem Spartans. There is a significant gap between them and the next team. Orange County is fourth place, sitting at 7-2 overall. Fifth place is where you will find the Amherst County Lancers. They are 6-3. Western Albemarle occupies the number six place, with their 5-4 record. Seventh place is the current slot for the Jefferson Forest Cavaliers, who are 3-6 but play in the remarkably tough Seminole District. Then eighth place and just ahead of us, the Halifax County Comets. They are 4-5.

Pulaski County is at ninth place, 4-5. Tenth is GW Danville. This has been a rare losing season as the Eagles almost always compete for a region 4D crown, making this season all the more shocking. Me Joe burg County, a brand new school, is 2-7 in their inaugural season of football. Then there is Blacksburg, who is just trying to win a football game, let alone make the playoffs.

Travel down Peppers Ferry Road to support the Cougs on Friday night, 7:00!

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