Kicking game mistakes costly for Cougars as they fall in opener to Northside, 29-28

     Roanoke– You expect first game mistakes, but they hurt when the result is a single digit defeat. Pulaski County dropped open passes, committed a dozen penalties for 95 yards, and kicking game mistakes were huge. The result was Northside scored four touchdowns. Pulaski County also scored four touchdowns, and kicked a field goal too, but still lost by one, 29-28.

       Two blocked conversion kicks following touchdowns cost the Cougars two points, and a dropped snap on a punt at the five-yard line resulted in a Viking touchdown. That’s nine points lost or not gained due to kicking game mistakes.

      There were also missed opportunities. Pulaski County came up with three big turnovers in the game, pass interceptions by James Jackson and Austin Gallimore and a fumble recovery by Gage Mannon. Following two of the turnovers the Cougars went three and out on offense. 

      “The kicking game hurt us,” said PCHS head coach Stephen James. “We had problems with it last week in the scrimmage game so we worked on it, checked our blocking assignments, fixed the ones we missed. So tonight we miss the same ones again. I don’t have a good answer for that. When you score the same number of touchdowns as the other team, but you kick a field goal, you figure you’re supposed to win, but we didn’t.”

     James says there is much work to do in the Cougar camp. “We did some good things. We’re shorthanded, missed a couple kids due to injury. But we didn’t take advantage of three turnovers. We had trouble in some other spots on both offense and defense. We need to figure out a way to help ourselves in some areas, or go with some new people. We still need to win two or three positions. We’ve got work to do.”

     But James believes this is a Cougar football team that will get better. “We’re so young in some many places and it showed tonight, but those kids are going to get better. We need to cut down the mistakes, fix some things, and I think we will. I told the team, we still have a chance to go 9-1. We just need to come back Monday ready to get to work and get better,” said James.

     Quarterback Jalen Jackson got the Vikings on the board first with an eight-yard counter run in the first quarter. But the Cougars came right back and moved 86 yards in eight plays. Quarterback Kade Akers pushed over from two yards out, but Ryan Castle’s kick was blocked, and the Cougars trailed, 7-6.

    Two possessions later the Cougars rolled again, this time driving 82 yards in 12 plays, and Akers scored from five yards out. The Cougars tried for two, and missed.  This time Northside came back and Jackson hit Chris Fisher from seven yards out, then went for two and Fisher made the catch again. On the last play of the first half Castle drilled a 37-yard field goal, and the Cougars and Vikings were tied 15-15 at the break.

      The teams didn’t score until deep into the third quarter, mainly because of Gallimore’s interception and Mannon’s fumble recovery. The drive started at the Cougar 24, and ended when Akers hit Cody Gibbs with a pass down the hash and he zipped 24 yards to paydirt. Castle was good and Pulaski County was up, 22-15.

     Then Northside got the biggest break of the game. Broc Simpson couldn’t handle a low snap on fourth down. The Vikings recovered at the Cougar five. Hall scored from the two, and it was tied, 22-22.

     Then the Cougar offense made its biggest play of the game.  Following a couple first downs after the kickoff, Mannon took a handoff off the left side and zoomed 41 yards to the end zone, putting Pulaski Co. back on top with 8:41 left to play, but Castle’s point after kick was blocked again, leaving the score 28-22. Following the kickoff the Vikings used eight plays to move 80 yards, all on the ground, and converted the point after for a, 29-28 lead.

    Still, there was 5:53 remaining in the game, plenty of time for the Cougars to get in scoring position, but they turned the ball over on downs without getting out of their own territory and the Vikings ran out the clock.

     Hall led Northside in rushing with 153 yards on 17 carries. Jackson had 91 on 11. Jackson was five of 11 passing for 76 yards. Hall had the biggest reception of the game for the Vikings, gaining 37 yards on a screen pass. Northside ran 45 times for 306 big yards, and totaled 382 yards of offense.

      Jakari Finley led Pulaski Co. in rushing with 89 yards on 21 carries, and he had to work very yard to get each yard. Mannon finished with 56 yards on eight runs, and Akers had 32 on 11 carries. Akers was 11 of 18 passing for 175 yards.  E.J. Horton had five catches for 116 yards, Logan Burchett three for 27, Gibbs his touchdown catch and run for 24, and Gallimore one for 10. Pulaski Co. had a total offense of 333 yards. Even though Northside pretty much controlled the line of scrimmage the second half, Pulaski County still had 60 snaps in the game, the Vikings 56. The Cougars did not turn the ball over in the game.

     Pulaski County will be on the road again next Friday when it journeys back to Roanoke to play at William Fleming.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot