Locker Room: Stage is set … a rematch

The first game makes the second game a rematch that makes sense. We’re talking Region 4D playoffs here, the second round, and the second time around for this game.  Pulaski County managed to do something it has tried to accomplish for too long, but got the job done against a good GW-Danville team last Friday to advance.

It’s the 5th seeded Cougars playing top seeded Blacksburg. Pulaski County is 8-3 on the season, the Bruins a perfect 11-0. The first game was played in Dobson Stadium a month ago. It was not the type game most expected it to be, but it was a dandy of a battle. Blacksburg won, 21-14, and neither team could put up a marker in the second half.

It’s happened before. In fact, it happens a lot. You have two high powered offenses ready to see who can outscore the other, and the defenses both basically slam the door. One thing was glaringly evident following that game. A lot of players get headlines, and statistics, but the primary strength of both Pulaski Co. and Blacksburg is their defensive units. That has not changed.

The Cougar defense has been terrific most of the season. There is great effort, high intensity, emotion, and the excitement level is obvious. It’s enjoyable to watch Pulaski County play defense, if for no other reason than the energy and aggressive style. This unit is too small, and also too young to be as a good as it is on paper, but it absolutely is. But Blacksburg’s defense has allowed even less than the Cougars.

The Pulaski County defense has allowed just an average of 16.4 points per game. In these times, that’s about like giving up one touchdown a game in old times. But the Bruins have allowed just 11.0 points per game. And there you quickly find the key to who wins this rematch.

How close is it? Blacksburg is averaging 35.1 points per game. Pulaski Co. 36 even. Balance out the average points scored vs. the average points allowed per game and the difference is 4.5 Blacksburg. But I’m confident the Bruins don’t want to hang their hat on that scant margin, too many variables.

That also brings us back to the key for what decides this football game. Pulaski County had only two offensive plays of magnitude in the first game. Gage Mannon had a 63-yard touchdown run on the Cougars very first snap. Following a Blacksburg touchdown, E.J. Horton ran the kickoff back 90 yards for six. But other than those two plays, the Cougars could not move the football against a very good Bruin defensive unit. The Cougars got 139 yards rushing on 34 attempts, but only 76 on its last 33, an average of 2.30 per rush. That is the area of the game that must change if Pulaski County is to upset the high powered Bruins. Pulaski County needs to increase its possession time, its number of snaps, and have a good field position game. The total yards was 228 the first game. That must improve in the rematch.

But then on the other hand, Blacksburg actually did less. Nobody has defended the Bruins as well as Pulaski County. How about 22 rushes for just 17 yards! The Bruins are a major passing team, but anybody wants to run for more than that. It allows opponents to totally concentrate on defending the pass. Blacksburg had just 186 total yards of offense, so how did it win?

It was a big play game. You already know the two scoring plays for Pulaski County. Blacksburg scored when Kevin Mitchell popped its only big run of the game to setup the first Bruin score. Then the Cougar secondary couldn’t make a play on a ball that was pretty much up for grabs and it resulted in a 76-yard touchdown. The final score came when Mitchell scooped up a bouncing pigskin on a punt and ran 85 yards for a touchdown on a play that sure looked like there were two blocks to the backs of Cougar defenders.

But that’s history. It was a game of big plays. Neither team could score in the second half. Regardless of how it happened, Blacksburg made three big plays, Pulaski County two. End of story. Now comes a bonus chapter.

How to you change the ending of the rematch? First you hope your defense plays just as great as it did the first time, but realize that’s asking a lot. Secondly, you must find a way for the offense to generate some consistency against that quick and aggressive Blacksburg defense. The defensive philosophies of both teams are the same. The schemes are different, but it’s still about being quick, aggressive, pressure, make plays, all out.

But how do you combat it? For sure, neither team can afford to go three and out all night. So who can move the football? Which team can figure out how to that better than they did the first game is likely your winner.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot