There are always those games. You appear to be heading toward a really outstanding football season, people are telling you how great you are, you’re playing a not terribly impressive opponent, you might be a bit over-confident, and not terribly sharp or focused. It’s been said many times. When you starting thinking you’re really good, you get closer to getting beat. A team needs to understand what it means to be good. A team needs to handle that feeling, and how you react to all the great things you’re being told? As in don’t pay attention to that stuff.
Suddenly against this supposed lesser opponent you’re in trouble. Nothing is working as well, there have been mistakes, poor execution, you’re understandably depressed because there’s been a fallen teammate. You sort of feel like a member of the family is missing, and Landon McDaniel was indeed gone to the hospital. It’s halftime. William Byrd, a team that lost to a team you had already beaten by 36 is in front, 14-0, and frankly, things didn’t look very good.
But then the Pulaski County defense came to life and started making plays and suddenly Byrd players were getting knocked around. Luke Russell had a terrific game for the Cougars. He recovered two fumbles, intercepted a pass, and blocked a punt. That’s a career for most players. Austin Gallimore led the physical aspect of it and was all over the field. There were not many tackles that he didn’t at least get a piece of. His brother Ethan came up big, made the sack that caused the fumble that put the game away. But a host of Cougar defenders played well and hard. The total effort was obvious. The kicking game was also crucial.
It was a long, hard pull, and it took the entire second half to get the job done. Nothing came easy for the Pulaski County offense which might be something Cougar fans will just have to get used to. A punt, and playing good field position, even with today’s attitude toward football, is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as you have a great defense and special teams play. Pulaski County has those two things.
It was close, very close, too close. It also wasn’t very pretty, but when it was all over, none of that mattered. The Cougars won, 19-14 and went to 4-0. Had there been one ounce of quit in this team, it would have lost. There was obvious frustration over missed opportunities, and great field position that could not be taken advantage of. It was like a trip to the dentist, uphill all the way.
But the defense made plays, played quick and physical, very physical. Byrd had to pay a high price for every inch. Broc Simpson missed one, but he also made two field goals, and just like everything else, they were crucial.
Then a struggling offense went to the air exclusively the last quarter and a half. Quarterback A.J. McCloud didn’t hit a high percentage, but he hit the ones he had too, and he got the job done with a sore shoulder. At times it looked like he was throwing the ball as much with his body as his arm. And three guys who a month ago were likely not considered to be crucial to the cause in 2019, suddenly were. Wideouts Logan Burchett, Layne Suthers, and Chase Dotson. Dotson stepped in for McDaniel. Landon would have been proud of how he played. The Cougars could not go deep. McCloud had to throw quick slants and crossing patterns, much of it centered in the middle of the field. He had to throw into traffic. He did. Suthers, Dotson, and Burchett had to make catches in traffic. They did. On the biggest catch and run in the game Suthers was slanting short over the middle, maybe 10-yards downfield. The Byrd defender was on him like a blanket, but he won the battle for the football. The defender had him wrapped up, and then another Terrier hit Suthers too, and it seemed to steady him. He broke free from both, reversed his field, and ran all the way to the six for first and goal. Many times passes were completed with very small windows, little or no margin for error. Two plays later McCloud hit Gage Mannon on a swing pass and he took it home for the win.
It has also been said many times that you learn a lot more about yourself and what you’re made of during adversity. Everybody can be great when you’re winning. That’s easy. What’s hard is when you’re down 14-0 at the half and nothing is working. What do you do? How do you get the game turned? Using the most simple of terms, Pulaski County held Byrd scoreless in the second half, figured out how to put 19 points on the board, and pulled out a victory that for much of the evening appeared unlikely. So how did they do it? The Cougars won because they wanted to. When winning is important to you, you figure it out. You pay the price, whatever the expense. Again, if there had been once ounce of quit in Pulaski County, it would not have won last Friday at William Byrd, but the Cougars did win, and did so because they really wanted to.
The defense led the way as it has from the beginning. There are now 15 turnovers in just four games. The Cougars get to the football, as quick and with as much aggression as I have seen. There have been three blocked punts and Simpson is four of five on field goals. There have been five pass interceptions. Corvin Carter leads the way with three. Gage Mannon returned one pick for six. He also returned a fumble recovery for six. There have been seven fumble recoveries. Russell has three, and Ethan Gallimore two. The defense came up with five turnovers against Byrd and they were crucial.
Pulaski County is 4-0, but it had to pay a much higher price then was anticipated at William Byrd. The comeback and effort were inspiring, and it appears there will likely be games just like the last one down the road.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot