Locker Room: Cougars were closer than you might think

      It has been documented and tossed around far more than necessary for most of the just concluded football season. The topic of course was the lack of production from the offense. Pulaski County had a terrific attacking defense that was a joy to watch. No Cougar defense ever got after it any better, or played harder. And I have written in this column often as to the quality of the Cougar kicking game.
      But you can break down every position and discuss it until your eyes hurt, but the simple bottom line, the biggest factor in the lack of offensive production was evident in the region semi-final loss to E.C. Glass in Lynchburg. Glass won because it had number 5 and Pulaski County didn’t. It’s that simple.
      I’ll even go so far as to say if Dresaun Kendrick was not on the Hilltopper football team, the Cougar defense would have posted a shutout win. He made three plays in the game. Kendrick is a playmaker. He’s the type player you run into when you advance in the post season. Without a big play from Kendrick the Cougars would have led 10-0 at the half. Without Kendrick making a great play Glass wouldn’t have scored its second touchdown either. The rest came after Pulaski County was forced to try a fake punt that didn’t workout, and the final score didn’t matter and under normal circumstances would never have happened.
     But it was number 5. Glass had him, Pulaski County didn’t. It really is that simple. Put Kendrick on Pulaski County’s football team and you have a squad that would make a serious run at a state championship, and I’m very serious about that remark. I think it’s an obvious fact.
      The Cougars couldn’t win the line of scrimmage and didn’t have a playmaker. It didn’t have that elusive player that could turn a five yard gain into 25, or a 10 into 70 and a romp into the end zone. The longest scoring run of the season came in game 11 when Ethan Gallimore ran 23 yards against Blacksburg. The longest scoring play of any kind came when Luke Russell stripped the ball and ran 56 yards to the end zone at Glass.
      It’s called firepower. Speed. Athleticism. The ability to make plays. If you can’t it creates frustration and doubt. There is no doubt this is the area that Stephen James and his coaching staff will try to address in the off season. It will be a huge concern for the 2020 season. The Cougar offense simply had to work too hard to score.
       And back to the coaching. James and his staff did a helluva fine job. One statistic makes that glaringly apparent. Pulaski Co. had six offensive plays that gained 20 or more yards in 12 football games………just six in 48 quarters of football!  The longest gainer of the year was a 36-yard run late in the win at Patrick Henry by Keyontae Kennedy. Yet, the team won nine games and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. There is not one reader of this column that would assume when the season started you could accomplish that much with so little firepower.
      To make that opinion obvious, just think back to last Friday. Kendrick makes a 79-yard run in the final minute of the first half. He slipped through two tacklers, reversed his field, even came to a stop and go inside the 15, and was finally knocked down at the two. Glass’ second score came when Kendrick somehow escaped two Cougar tacklers, and fired a strike for the second touchdown just before falling to the ground. And the score that actually put the game away came after a failed fake field goal attempt. Quoterrius Craighead was stopped trying to sweep left, but the Cougar defense had him shut down, he bounced off one defender and reversed his field and ran at least 60 yards to gain the final 24 to the end zone just inside the pylon on the other side of the field. All that information is about speed, play making ability, firepower.
       Pulaski County had to play without any of that. But it still won nine times. That’s a compliment to how hard the team played, and how it continued to win when it had much to overcome. It’s also a big compliment to the Cougar coaching staff. There is no blame to be handed out to anybody involved with Cougar football, only a good feeling for an outstanding season that took the maximum effort to attain. It was a job well done.
       But most of the time, the deciding factor is a player or players who can make plays. Just simple talent. The Cougar defense certainly could, and was a pleasure to watch, one of the finest defensive units in the 45-yard history of the program. It was a blast. But regardless of the lack of fireworks, this team was enjoyable to watch because you knew the team was doing the best it could. Sure, there were ups and downs, and struggles at times, but this was a team that had to work very hard to experience success. It did so nine times. That speaks for itself. If every student at PCHS worked as hard as this football team did, we would have nothing but honor roll students. To win this team had to give great effort. It did.
      We’ll take a look at the final statistics in a couple days, and there are some very impressive ones, but right now it’s time to say how much I appreciated getting to watch an outstanding senior class. There is a fine nucleus returning to the Cougar football program and there will be much optimism for the 2020 season, but this senior class will be difficult to replace. It played hard. It was determined. It was one in mind and that mind was to win. I’ve never seen better effort. You cannot ask for more.
     But to Austin Gallimore, Chris Shay, Gage Mannon, Luke Russell, Landon McDaniel, Christian Finn, Logan Burchett, Kameron McGrady, Micah Minnick, Cody Graham, Tyler Brookman, Tristan Bowden, and Zane Ratcliffe. It was my pleasure to watch you play and see how well you represented your school, your community, and the Cougar football program. I wish you well.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot