By MASON CLARK
For the second straight week, the Pulaski County Cougars will be taking on an out-of-state opponent. This time it will be a team that we are a little more familiar with: the Bluefield Beavers from the West Virginia.
We will be traveling to Mitchell Stadium for a rare Thursday night game. The Cougars come in at 1-1 after a tough loss to Tennessee High, and while it may not have playoff implications, to quote the great statement by Herm Edwards, you play to win the game.
Bluefield and Pulaski County have a great history. First of all, the Beavers are one of if not the best program in the history of West Virginia football. The Beavers have 11 state championships, and won it most recently in 2017. The Beavers are coming off a 7-3 campaign last year and got to the third round of the West Virginia state playoffs, and they are 52-9 over the past five seasons. But they are also off to a rare 0-2 start this year, albeit those two losses coming to very good teams in Graham and Princeton High School.
The first meeting in the series came in the ninth Cougar football game ever. James McClanahan ran for a staggering 258 yards, but the Cougars still fell 27-14. The 1975 game, in my opinion, is the lowest point in Cougar football history. Playing against a state champion Bluefield team, the Cougars were 0-8, and the Beavers gave us a beatdown that still is all over the record books for Cougar football. They beat us 69-12. That’s right, most points allowed in a game in school history and biggest margin of defeat in school history happened that night.
After a few years off, they again beat us in 1980 and 1981. Then in 1982, as part of a perfect 10-0 season, Jack Turner’s four sacks helped us win over them for the first time. We lost two consecutive heartbreakers in 1983 (22-21) and 1984 (9-6), despite being state semi finalists that season. But from 1985 on, we simply manhandled them – 20-8 in 1985, 31-6 in 1986, and 10-6 in 1987 gave us three straight wins before the series froze. Then in 1992, we began doing the “Border Bowl” with Bluefield. Eric Webb’s pick-six helped us win 20-14, on our way to a state championship. Then our nationally ranked team humiliated the Beavers 56-7 in 1993, which is still the worst loss they have had since 1923. Timmy Davis led the way for a 24-6 win in 1994, and the rivalry again paused for a few years.
We met up again 1998, when Kwasi Scott and Josh Calfee each tore up the Beaver defense for a 21-7 win. Then finally in 1999, the Beavers ended their losing streak to us and beat us in a thriller, 26-25. Then in 2000, Frank Cobbs and Josh Calfee dominated them, a 49-21 win. We haven’t seen them since. We lead the all-time series 9-7.
The Cougars enter the matchup having seen a tale of two games thus far. A blowout win to open the season, then a close loss the next week. You never want to drop two games in a row, especially before heading into district play. The Cougars definitely need the win Thursday night.
The Cougar offense has been led by Trevor Burton so far. The senior easily leads the team in rushing yards, scrimmage yards and all-purpose yards. He has ran the ball 30 times for 292 yards (9.7 yards per carry) and 5 touchdowns already. Chris Gallimore has also done well, rushing for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns and efficient passing when asked to do so, completing 4 of 8 passes for 82 yards. Twenty yards per completion and 10 yards per pass attempt is very good.
Taner Mace, Zach Parker and Brett Jones combined to also chip in to the run game, as they combine for 139 rush yards on 16 carries (8.8 yards per rush) and 54 receiving yards (18 yards per catch). Freshman Cole Boone and junior Tyler Underwood have also contributed rushing.
Marcus Reed made a spectacular diving catch for a huge 28-yard gain last week. Davis Neel hasn’t caught a pass thus far, but has reliable hands and will make plays when called upon.
So far, the Cougar offense has run 94 plays for 673 yards, a healthy average of 7.16 yards per play. And nobody is more deserving of the credit for that than the Cougar offensive line. Evan Alger, Aiden Moore, Nolan Dalton, Diego Turner and Hunter Hill, as well as Neel and Reed at times, have paved the way for such numbers. They won’t get a whole lot of hype and flash like the backs and receivers do, but they deserve as much credit as anyone for the success the Cougar offense has had thus far.
The Cougar defense has been good as well. Tyler Underwood has recorded 22 tackles so far, with a whopping 18 of them coming last week against Tennessee High. He also has a tackle for loss and a sack. Sophomore safety Taner Mace has 18 tackles so far in the season, including a tackle for loss. Evan Alger is a beast on the edge, with 11.5 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and has blocked two punts. Alan Fernandez has done well inside disrupting things, and Nicholas Woolwine and Trevor Burton have been excellent at outside linebacker. The secondary struggled a bit against Tennessee High, but expect corrections to be made. I also must admit that I was blown away with how good Tennessee High was in pass protection. I haven’t seen many high school teams, if any, pass block that well. They also had good timing, and the quarterbacks and receivers were good as well.
Nathan Pratt has been a reliable kicker so far, and freshman Bryant Nottingham has done well kicking off for the Cougars. Zach Parker made a huge play when Pulaski County needed it most, returning a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
The Beavers are still a very good team like they were when we played them back in the day. They have good size up front, have lots of speed and athleticism, and play the game well, and are well coached. They will usually run a spread offense, but have lined up in the I-formation some as well. They like to get those athletes into space and let them run and make plays.
So far, the Beavers are 0-2. But the losses came to Graham (we know how good they are after last year’s game against them), and an always tough Princeton team. They will likely be motivated, and would like nothing more than to beat an old rival in their house.
Despite the 0-2 start, Bluefield is still ranked number 8 in West Virginia’s AA power rankings. The Beavers starting quarterback is named Caleb Fuller who passed for 134 yards against Princeton on Friday, while running back Amir Hairston rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown.
They have good receivers, primarily RJ Hairston and Sencere Fields. Their defense is good too, as they showed by shutting down an explosive Graham offense in the second half in week one. Gerrard Wade leads the way from his linebacker spot. RJ Hairston is very good at defensive end as well.
Expect a fun game on Thursday. For those who can, make the trip to Bluefield to support the Cougars!