Antonio Nottingham/PC Touchdown Club
Pulaski County Head Coach Mark Dixon believes Friday’s game with Salem will be decided in the trenches. Here, Cougar lineman Diego Turner wins his battle in the trenches, standing up a Patriot ballcarrier while playing off a block from another Patriot.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot
It’s Salem week! Enough said.
Friday night’s contest at Salem will be the 48th between the two powers in what is easily the biggest game in these parts every football season.
Salem leads the series between the two teams, 28-19 and has enjoyed the edge in recent seasons.
The Spartans come into Friday night’s game as the top team in Region 4D and the River Ridge District, sporting a 5-0 record. Their last win was a 42-0 shellacking last Friday of Hidden Valley – a team Pulaski County beat earlier this season, 48-7.
The Cougars of course are coming off their first loss of the season, 24-23 to Patrick Henry – a team Salem beat in week three, 34-17. The Cougars are 4-1 on the season and in River Ridge play.
Following the loss, one might wonder about the Cougars’ attitude – what with their undefeated season gone up in smoke.
According to head coach Mark Dixon, the team is responding well.
“So far so good,” Dixon said Tuesday. “I think they came back Monday ready to work and had a pretty good day yesterday. I feel after watching film we all understand the areas where we have to become more sound in if we want to have chances against good football teams. So, I feel good about how they’ve responded in practice and with their energy level.”
As for this week’s opponent, Dixon said, “No rest for the weary.”
“We certainly don’t have time to lick our wounds or sulk any. The competition is going up another level – maybe two more levels. Salem is certainly a heck of a challenge.”
The Spartans have wins against Blacksburg (50-0), Christiansburg (35-13), Patrick Henry (34-17), Cave Spring (63-7) and Hidden Valley (42-0).
“They’re just a well-oiled machine. Really coached well with great talent everywhere,” Dixon said of the Spartans.
“They stress you all over the field in different ways. They’re able to run the ball, attack the middle of the line, they attack off the edges and they’re able to get outside. They have skill kids that are really good. It forces you to play a lot of man-to-man. And then they have receivers who can beat you there,” he said.
“Defensively they’re just head and shoulders above anybody we’ve played. You can just see the athleticism all over the field, and they’re physical,” Dixon said.
Salem has at least three players already committed to play in college.
Running back/linebacker Zavione Woods has committed to Louisiana-Monroe of the Sunbelt Conference.
Twin brothers Jorden and Jayden McDonald are now committed to Virginia Tech after previously saying they intended to also attend Louisiana-Monroe.
Jorden is a cornerback and wide receiver while Jayden is a wide receiver and strong safety. Both are listed as “athletes” by Tech. Where they’ll play as Hokies will be determined this summer.
Jayden was a first team defensive back for the 2019 Class 4 all-state team off Salem’s 12-2 squad that reached the Class 4 state semi-finals before losing to eventual state runner-up Tuscarora.
The Spartans of head coach Don Holter are lead on offense by sophomore quarterback DaRon Wilson who took over for Chauncey Logan Jr. after three games this season.
Woods’ rushing mate behind Wilson is junior Cameron Leftwich.
Receiving targets include Chase Greer and their kicker is freshman Wesley Cross.
What do the Cougars have to do to beat their arch-rival?
“We definitely can’t have another 10 penalties,” Dixon said, alluding to the Cougars’ penchant this season for penalties – especially of the pre-snap variety.
In five games so far this season, the Cougars have been penalized 39 times for 315 yards. Ten of those came in the loss to PH.
“It will get ugly quick if we’re not able to get more sound. Those illegal procedures and those type things have got to stop to have a chance,” Dixon said.
“There’s not one thing [to fix] which is kind of tough. Sometimes we have a lineman who is jumping early and it’s obvious. Sometimes we’re late with the snap. Sometimes the count’s not right. We mess up the count – the cadence. It’s at all three levels so it’s not one thing. When you’re doing it at three different levels now, you’re up to six or seven of them [penalties]. And that’s what’s happening. I’ve never experienced as many as we’re having.
“It’s not the same thing all the time. If it were the same thing, I’d feel easier about the fix, but three different things are happening at the most in-opportune times.
“We’ve certainly improved from the beginning,” Dixon said of the play of his offensive linemen.
“The last game we were able to establish a good running game. We’ll be challenged to another level this week. If you eliminate the penalties, then I think you’ve got a chance to continue drives and that’s the thing that we have to do. We’re running the ball efficiently enough, but we’re not a team that can afford to be second and three and jump offsides and be second and eight. That’s killing us,” he said.
Dixon believes the game will be decided – as they say – in the trenches.
“It’s going to come down to can we stop their run and are we able to establish the run. It will be a line of scrimmage game,” he said.
How does Dixon feel about playing in “THE GAME” in these parts – a game he’s heard about for years?
“I think because of the type of year it has been, it’s been hard to get just focused. We’ve been so focused on the day-to-day of improving and we’re still there. Typically, this game is played after 10 games, two scrimmages and a whole summer of working. And so, it seems the game is just here so fast. That’s what it feels like to me like, ‘wow, we’re already to this game.’ It’s almost like drinking water through a fire hose. It’s happening so fast. It’s hard to get – I know how important this game is I do – but there’s so many other things we’re trying to get corrected as we’re moving along it’s hard to just simply – I don’t know – even get into Friday night when I’m so worried about today,” Dixon said.
Game time is 7 p.m. at Salem. The game is being live streamed over gamedaymagazine.com
The Virginia High School League released its latest ranking of state high school football teams earlier this week.
In our Region 4D, Salem is tops with a 26.00 rating. Pulaski County is next with a 22.60. Right behind is Piedmont District power George Washington of Danville at 21.75. Amherst of the Seminole District is next at 19.80.
Only the top four teams in each region qualify for the playoffs, which will get underway next week.
Other rankings of note: In Region 2C, Appomattox leads the way with a 21.60 rating followed by Dan River (20.67), Glenvar (18.80) and Fort Chiswell (18.60).
Radford’s loss two weeks ago to Glenvar dropped the Bobcats into 5th in Region 2C and out of the playoffs for now. The Bobcats, whose athletic programs are on pause due to COVID protocols, have a rating of 17.25.
Radford’s game last week against Floyd County was canceled.
In Region 3D, Lord Botetourt is king of the hill right now with a rating of 27.20. Abingdon (23.50), Carroll County (21.40) and Northside (20.00) are next.
With their win over the Cougars, Patrick Henry now leads Region 5D with a 25.50 rating. Next are Albemarle (22.40), William Fleming (22.00) and Brooke Point and Mountain View are tied (21.00).
And in Region 1C, Galax is on top at 20.80. Next are Narrows (20.40), Grayson County (15.40) and Parry McCluer (15.00).
Antonio Nottingham/PC Touchdown Club
Homecoming King and Queen Crowned
Kelsey Arnold and Lane Suthers, Pulaski County High School’s Homecoming King and Queen are pictured above. They were crowned during halftime of last week’s homecoming game at Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium. Other members of the Homecoming Royalty were Prince – Julian Cregger and Princess – Alex Turner, and Duke – Ryan Luu and Duchess – Greta Peterson. The members of the Homecoming Court were: Kelsey Arnold escorted by Parker Arnold; Madelyn Aust escorted by Conner Compton; Grace Bailey escorted by Jacob Crabtree; Haleigh Brown escorted by Julian Cregger; Allyson Castle escorted by Drew Dalton; Ashlyn Kirtner escorted by Grayson Deu; Juliana Paine escorted by Chase Dotson; Greta Peterson escorted by Ethan Gallimore; Emmerson Scott escorted by Ryan Luu; Alexanne Turner escorted by Clay Phillips; Madison Webb escorted by Broc Simpson, and Shelley Whitaker escorted by Layne Suthers. Last week’s game was also Senior Night as it was the last regular season home football game.