Locker Room: Cougars face Vikings 35th time in lid lifter

Pulaski County opens the 2019 football season at home in Dobson Stadium Friday evening at 7pm against longtime rival Northside. It will be the 35th meeting between the two schools. PCHS holds the series advantage 20-14.

It will be a telling opener for the Cougars. The Vikings have finished 9-3 and 12-2 the past two seasons under Scott Fisher, and are one of the powers out of the Blue Ridge District. Pulaski County is coming off an 8-4 campaign last season that featured a playoff victory on the road at Danville.

Stephen James begins his 6th season as head coach of the Cougars and is 35-20. There have been some landmark wins by Pulaski County in the history against Northside. Six times the Cougars have shutout the Vikings. In 1993 the Cougars had their highest scoring game ever against Northside, putting up 63 big points, and in a titanic struggle in 1982, one of the greatest defensive efforts in PCHS football history came at Northside when the Cougars won, 3-0, the Vikings managed only a single first down and never crossed the 50.

There is no way to know if any such things will take place this time. It is the first game, and there are always uncertainties. For Pulaski County, its main concern has to be offensive production. There hasn’t been much in preseason action.

“No question, we’ve got to get better,” said James this week. “We need to block better up front, get our assignments down much better, and we need to execute better overall.” There has been some uncertainly at the vital quarterback position for the Cougars. Projected starter A.J. McCloud went down with a shoulder injury in a scrimmage against Bluefield. The injury concerns his labrum muscle in his right shoulder. In last week’s scrimmage against Radford, James felt he needed to alternate his two backup quarterbacks to see if one would win the job.

“McCloud is still uncertain,” said James.  “He gets an MRI this week, and the results of that will tell us where we need to go and what has to be done. Even if he gets a good report and the healing process is underway, there is no way he will play against Northside. Chris Shay will be our starting quarterback. He was our best offensive threat last week, and he has gotten a lot of repetitions in practice this week. We are an option-based offense this season, and timing and rhythm are very important. We didn’t have that last week, but I’m confident we will be better against Northside.”

And of course, there are the usual concerns of a first game. “Penalties. Turnovers. Missed assignments. All the little things become big things. It all evolves around execution. The kicking game takes on a much greater importance.  We have to be better overall as a football team. But I have confidence that our kids will play much better,” added James.

Northside returns some players who were crucial in the Vikings squeaking out a, 29-28 win in Roanoke last season. Chris Fisher is a multi-talented threat on offense as a runner and pass receiver, Shyreek Dews has speed out of the slot, and Darrien Johnson returns as a power back. Sidney Webb is a talented duel threat quarterback. Defensively, Northside is once again very impressive on the front which will present a challenge to the Cougars’ offensive line. Zach Horton (6-3, 220) and Gavyn Preston (6-3, 230) are impressive defensive ends that can bring heat off the corners. And inside sits one of the more impressive defensive linemen in the region in 6-3, 305 Ethan Blank.

Pulaski County will counter with an offensive lineup that starts Caleb Perfater, 6-0, 180 sophomore at tight end, the tackles will be 6-3, 280 junior Cooper Dunnigan and 6-2, 287 jr. Clay Phillips. The guards will be 6-1, 285 soph. Markus Wright, and 6-0, 275 jr. Jacob Turman. The center will be 6-0, 280 jr. Levi Young. The backfield behind Shay will be running backs Gage Mannon, a 6-0, 195 sr., Jacari Finley, 5-11, 185 jr., Luke Russell, 5-11, 185 sr., and Keyontae Kennedy, a 5-10, 180 soph. The up backs will be either Austin Gallimore, a 5-9, 205 sr., or Will Bishop, a 5-8, 185 jr. The wideouts will be a combination of sr. Logan Burchett, jr. Layne Suthers, and sr. Landon McDaniel. The kicker and punter will be jr. Broc Simpson.

Defensively, the Cougars will lineup 6-2, 290 jr. Zeke Surber, 5-9, 250 sr. Tyler Brookman, and 5-10, 195 sr. Tristan Bowden on the interior front. The outside linebackers will be Ethan Gallimore, a 5-9, 185 jr, and Chayton Rollins, a 6-2, 220 jr, or Finley. The inside linebackers will be Austin Gallimore, and Russell. Burchett and Suthers will be at the corners, but also expect Corvin Carter, 6-0, 180 jr, and McDaniel to see action. The safeties will be Mannon and Shay, and Kennedy and Chase Dotson, a 5-10, 180 jr. will also play.

Gates will open to Dobson Stadium for ticket sales at 5:30. … If you cannot make it out to the game it will be broadcast live on 107 Country PSK, airtime at 6:15. … In other season openers of interest Friday, GW-Danville is at Dinwiddie, Halifax at home to Nottoway, Blacksburg hosts Giles, Salem is at Amherst, Patrick Henry plays at Hidden Valley, E.C. Glass travels to Charlottesville, Cave Spring hosts William Byrd, Abingdon is at home to John Battle, Bassett rides to Rustburg, and Christiansburg hosts Floyd.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot

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