Pulaski County faces Graham tonight

Cougar football helmetBy MASON CLARK

The Patriot

The regular season is beginning to wind down, games are starting to mean more and the urgency is starting to pick up. The last three games will define the 2022 Cougar season. If we win out, which will be very hard, we will be sitting pretty in the playoff seeding. If we win some of them, we will most likely make the playoffs. If we are unable to win again this season, then we will not make the playoffs (in all likelihood). The 2022 Cougar football season will be defined by these last three weeks.

The tough three-game stretch will begin with a road game on Thursday night against the unbeaten Graham G-Men in Bluefield, the same field at which we met Bluefield earlier this year. It will be a challenge as Graham has separated themselves as one of the top programs in the state over the past few years.

Pulaski County and Graham simply don’t have much history. We scrimmaged them a few times through the years, but last season was the first official meeting. We were missing a few key starters, but the G-Men didn’t seem to care about that, beating us in a 58-18 beat down at home. That is the most that the Cougars have ever allowed at home. It was a rough game to say the absolute least.

Graham Preview
The G-Men are a proud program with tradition. They have four state championships in their history, winning it all in 1962, 1989, 1995, and as recently as 2018. They were led by Cam Allen for the 2018 title, who now is a standout player at Purdue University.

The G-Men are 51-6 over the past 4+ seasons, an unbelievable record. That includes players such as Taymon Cooke who had an offer to Michigan State, Allen. And Xayvion Bradshaw and Brody Meadows now currently at Virginia Tech.

The G-Men got the season started with a 29-25 win over rival Bluefield. They led 27-6 at one point but the Beavers almost made a comeback. In that game, quarterback Brayden Meadows was 5/7 passing for 56 yards and a touchdown. Ty’Drez Clements was a beast that night running for 240 yards on 26 attempts. Meadows added two rushing touchdowns and 42 rush yards on the ground. Chris Edwards caught 3 passes for 51 yards and a touchdown to lead the way receiving.

The next week, they beat Tazewell 38-8 to move to 2-0. Clements ran for 127 yards and a touchdown that game. Meadows finished with 66 yards passing and a touchdown on the night, which went to Braden Watkins. Chris Edwards is another big part of their offense, and he ran for a touchdown that night as well.

Week three saw the G-Men demolish the Richlands Blue Tornado by a score of 48-3. Richlands is historically a great program, but they’ve taken steps back in recent years. Meadows had 4 total touchdowns on the night, Clements ran for two touchdowns. Meadows had three passing touchdowns and all three went to different players: one to Chris Edwards, on to Tristian Hass, and one to Braden Watkins.

Week four was a challenge to Graham. They narrowly defeated the always strong Union High Bears by a score of 17-8. To those familiar with southwest Virginia high school football, Union is a newer school that is the consolidation of two old powerhouses, Powell Valley (eight state championships in seventeen years in the 80’s and 90’s) and Appalachia High. Clements was the man of the night, rushing 22 times for 146 yards and each of the two G-Men touchdowns on the night. Sophomore kicker Dylan Nash has stepped up for the G-Men as well, he’s been a big factor for their team. He hit a field goal in that game.

Week five was another win for Graham, this time 28-14 over Galax. Don’t let the score fool you; it was 28-0 with 3 minutes to go until the Maroon Tide got a couple of touchdowns after the result was obvious. Clements was again the bell cow player, running for a touchdown and catching a touchdown pass. Meadows threw three more touchdown passes, the other two of them were Chris Edwards. On defense, Jamel Floyd and Gage Sawyers were the leaders.

They got their sixth win in a row against George Wythe. Clements had his best game on that night, rushing 14 times for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns, including two runs of over seventy yards and a touchdown. Backup QB Johnathan Shockley came in and threw for 75 yards and a touchdown.

This is when things get weird for Graham. I won’t go into specifics, but there was some controversy there over the past few weeks that resulted in a few players being suspended, most of them being key players. Many thought the Virginia High Bearcats may upset them, but that didn’t happen. Graham rolled up 450 rushing yards and rolled to a 49-21 blowout win over the Bearcats to keep their perfect season intact. Jamel Floyd took over running the football, and he didn’t look too shabby, running for a whopping 277 yards on 26 carries with 3 touchdowns. Another player, Sean Hughes, ran for 152 yards and three more touchdowns. Not one pass was attempted by Graham, who evidently didn’t need to throw the ball. 435 rushing yards on the ground will do. Gage Sawyers also had an interception return for a touchdown that night.

With that, the G-Men are 7-0. They average 39 points per game and allow 14 a game. They appear to be a run-first team this year, which wasn’t necessarily the case last season. It is unclear whether the aforementioned starters for the G-Men will be back, but regardless, it appears to G-Men are an excellent team that we will have to play very well to defeat.

Pulaski County Preview
As mentioned earlier, the final three weeks of this season will heavily impact how this season is remembered. Whether or not we are playing into November will be determined over the next three weeks. If the season ended today, the Cougars would be the seven seed (the top eight make the playoffs), and would be traveling to Salem Stadium. But lots of things can change between now and November 11th. For now, we simply need to be focused on one thing and one thing only: winning.

Trevor Burton has had a wonderful season. To date, he has 135 attempts rushing for 1,043 yards and 21 touchdowns. Chris Gallimore has done well running the ball with 383 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns, as well as passing as he is now up to 17/34 for 277 yards and a touchdown through the air. Sophomore Taner Mace has 28 rush attempts for 175 yards and a touchdown, and junior Brett Jones has 21 carries for 158 yards and a touchdown on the year. Zach Parker has chipped in rushing as well. Receiving wise, junior Marcus Reed has stepped up big. He now has 8 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown, coming off his best game of the year with 3 catches for 68 yards and a touchdown against Blacksburg. Taner Mace, Brett Jones and Davis Neel have caught the football when asked to.

But things go as far as the five guys up front takes them. Evan Alger, Aiden Moore, Nolan Dalton, Diego Turner and Hunter Hill have all done very well blocking. We will need the best from each of them over the next few games. Ask any skill position player and they’ll tell you the linemen deserve all the credit.

The defense took care of business last week against Blacksburg. They shut down anything Blacksburg tried to do and the secondary held them to a season-low six yards passing. Of course, that will be much harder againsy each of the last three opponents to do. But nevertheless it is a step in the right direction. Up front, you’ll see Jack Allen, Alan Fernandez and Diego Turner. At linebacker you will see Trevor Burton, Evan Alger, Tyler Underwood who has been among the Cougars’ best players this season, and Nicholas Woolwine. All have done well stopping the run and rushing the passer. The secondary will consist of Zach Parker, who got the Cougars’ first interception last week, as well as freshman Bryant Nottingham, Kyle O’Neil and Trey Landreth at corner. At safety you’ll see Taner Mace and Brett Jones. Each of these last three opponents can throw the football well, so we will have to be strong back there.

Zach Parker and Trevor Burton will be returning kicks. Parker has a kick return touchdown this season. Mace and Parker will both be deep to return punts. Senior Nathan Pratt has been very reliable kicking, as has Gallimore as a holder and Alger as a snapper.

Game will be on THURSDAY night at 7:00. Be there!

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