When two good teams meet for a second time in the same season you always wonder if the second game will resemble the first. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. The game will take place at Christiansburg High. It’s Pulaski County vs. Blacksburg in round two of the Region 4D playoffs. The Cougars are 8-3 after a dramatic victory over GW-Danville last week, the Bruins a perfect 11-0 after an expected easy win over LCA.
The first game featured big plays. Blacksburg made three, Pulaski Co. two. The defenses pitched a shutout in the second half. The Cougars held the Bruins to just five first downs in the game, just 17 paltry yards rushing, and 186 total yards. Yet, still came up short. The Cougars will try and reverse that outcome and advance to the region final Friday where a huge crowd is expected for the rematch.
Pulaski Co. head coach Stephen James says you can’t be certain of anything, yet you try and prepare to the fullest for everything. “It might be another defensive battle. Our team will be ready. This is where we wanted to be three months ago, and now we’re here. We want to do all we can to keep this thing going.”
During playoff games some think it’s the time to do different things. Most coaches will tell you it’s not. Just do what you do the very best you can. Each team is what it is. They’ve worked for months developing into what they are. Some coaches maybe even reduce the package. James is one of those guys.
“No, you do not make changes now. You might try to tweek something a little bit on offense and defense too, but there will be no major changes. Both teams know who the other team is. There are no secrets. Who plays the best. Which team executes the best. Which team doesn’t make penalties and doesn’t turn the ball over. Which team makes a play when the opportunity presents itself. It’s about basic, fundamental things.”
There are certainly things James hopes his team can do better than the first time it faced Blacksburg, a disappointing 21-14 defeat in Dobson Stadium. “You never stop trying to get better from your very first game to your last. We need to be able to run the ball better this time. I’d love to put together some first downs, have good field position, and spend a lot of time on offense. We also need another great effort from our defense. You ask what the keys are to winning a game like this? Everything is key, but our team will play hard, give its best effort. We’ll see what happens,” said James.
Blacksburg is a team that relies on its passing game and Grant Johnson has completed 141 of 224 passes for 2,156 yards and 28 touchdowns. His leading receivers are Tiquest Terry, Thomas Coffey, Karim Muhamid, and Drew Babcock. Brian Mitchell is the leading rusher and also a threat in the passing game out of the backfield. A stingy Bruin defense is led by end Donald Norris, and linebackers Craig Weaver, Babcock, and Cole Epperley.
Pulaski County is led in rushing by Gage Mannon and Jakari Finley, both averaging almost 80 yards per game. Kade Akers is 89 of 156 passing for 1,222 yards. E.J. Horton is the leading receiver with 43 catches for 729 yards. Noah O’Dell has 20 receptions for 306 yards. Mannon has 102 points on 17 touchdowns, Horton 66 on 11 scores, Akers 60 on 10 TDs, and Ryan Castle has 62 kicking points on 47 of 51 extra-point kicks, and five of seven field goals, including a 46-yarder at Danville last Friday.
The Cougar defense is led by Austin Gallimore at linebacker with 102 tackles and his linebacker partner Luke Russell has 84. O’Dell leads the team with nine quarterback sacks, Russell has eight, and the team 28. Gallimore and Russell have combined for 24 tackles for lost yardage.
The Pulaski County offense will start 6-1, 265 senior Jaxson Callahan at center, Logan Fox, a 6-1, 290 junior and Carter Murray, a 5-10, 270 sr. are the guards, two sophomores, 6-3, 272 Clay Phillips and 6-3, 260 Cooper Dunnigan will be the tackles, 6-5, 225 jr. Dillon Porter the tight end. Akers, 6-2, 200 sr., will be the quarterback, Mannon, 6-0, 190 jr. and Finley 5-11, 185 soph. will get most of the carries, Logan Burchett, 5-10, 150 jr. will play a wide receiver, Austin Gallimore will be the H-Back, Horton will be at wideout, and Castle is the kicker.
Defensively, O’Dell, a 6-3, 210 sr. and Ethan Gallimore, a 5-10, 185 soph will play the edges, Ben Arnett, 5-11, 195 sr., Cam Mariotti, 5-11, 200 sr., and Zeke Surber, a 5-10, 270 soph. will be the down tackles. Russell, a 5-10, 175 jr., and Austin Gallimore, a 5-9, 195 jr. are the inside backers, the secondary will have Akers, Horton, Mannon, and 5-11, 175 jr. Chris Shay. Broc Simpson is the punter.
Cougar Paws: The Christiansburg High field has approximately 2,500 seating capacity. So fans should arrive early for the best seats. A crowd in the area of 4,000 is expected. Cougar fans will fill up the visiting side quickly, and the best seats and the most available seats are likely to be on the press side of the field…….The winner of this game will face the winner of the Jefferson Forest-E.C. Glass game next Friday……..The game will be broadcast live from Christiansburg on NASH/107 PSK. Airtime will be 6:15 with the Insurance Center of Dublin Pregame Show.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot