Christiansburg– It was a game that had no rhythm. It appeared it was going to turn into a rout for Blacksburg. Then coming down the stretch in the fourth quarter the Bruins were holding on against a furious Pulaski County rally, and won when the Cougars came up a yard short on fourth down at the Bruins’ 20, 28-21 in the second round of Region 4D playoffs. The Bruins remain undefeated and will play in the region final next week. Pulaski County closes its season at 8-4.
Blacksburg scored early when Grant Johnson got away from the Pulaski County rush, and passed 56 yards for a touchdown to Tiquest Terry. Late in the first half Blacksburg drove 71 yards on seven plays and scored on an eight-yard run by Brian Mitchell.
In between, Pulaski County got one first down on its first possession of the game. It would not get another the entire first half. The Cougars went three and out five consecutive possessions. In between touchdowns, Blacksburg went three and out four straight times. The Cougars had only 21 total yards of offense the first half, and at one point in the third quarter Pulaski Co. had completed just one pass, but the Bruins had picked off two. The only scoring opportunity the Cougars had the first half was setup by its defense who sacked Johnston twice and forced a punt from the end zone. PCHS would take over at the Bruins’ 31. But could do nothing and Ryan Castle tried a 49-yard field goal. It was long enough, but hit the left upright. Such was the first half for Pulaski Co.
“We couldn’t do anything right the first half,” said PCHS head coach Stephen James. “We had nothing. It wasn’t one player, or one thing. It was everything. That was one of the more frustrating first halves I can ever remember.”
It got worse. The Cougars went three and out again with their first possession of the second half and the Bruins promptly drove and scored again on a three-yard run by Mitchell. Then following the kickoff Mitchell picked off a Kade Akers pass and run it back 58 yards and suddenly it was 28-zip Blacksburg, and it looked like this much anticipated rematch was over in a hurry.
But then Blacksburg suddenly lost its poise. Two 15-yard penalties kept the next possession alive for the Cougars. After nine plays and 80 yards the score came when Akers kept around the left corner to score from nine yards out. The momentum turned.
Pulaski Co. drove 80 yards again and Akers scored from the two. An on-sides kick worked, and the Cougars were back in business at the Blacksburg 41. Then things started going haywire for the Cougars, and they were hit with three 15-yard penalties, and there was an off-setting 15-yard penalty as well. The opportunity was lost, and so was starting tackle Cooper Dunnigan who suffered a knee injury in a pileup on the sideline. Blacksburg would finish with 14 penalties for 140 yards, Pulaski Co. had 11 for 123.
Still, the ‘Burg offense was shutdown. After a three and out the Cougars drove again, and also got help from another 15-yard penalty on the Bruins. With 2:21 left to play Akers scored from a yard out. Castle hit all three extra point kicks. Suddenly it was, 28-21 Blacksburg. It was evident at that point that Pulaski Co. had not yet called off the fight. The Cougars were not going home early even after it had looked so bleak.
Now it was time to try and execute an on-sides kickoff for a second time, and it worked again. Pulaski Co. had first down at the Bruins’ 45. Akers hit E.J. Horton with a 17-yard pass, then Noah O’Dell for eight, and then Horton again and it was first down, but a holding penalty pushed the Cougars back. It was third and three at the 22, and Akers pushed for two, and it was fourth and one at the 20. There was still plenty of time. Pulaski Co. ran inside with Jacari Finley. He was stopped short. Blacksburg had narrowly escaped. The Bruins scored the first 28, the Cougars the final 21, and were within sight of the end zone when it ended. The Bruins touched their knee on the ground twice and the game ended.
It was a puzzling game in so many ways. Suddenly Pulaski Co. executed and made plays down the stretch it couldn’t for almost three quarters. And Blacksburg couldn’t put the Cougars away. The two teams played twice and both games were decided by one score. Frustration was obvious on both teams, personal foul penalties mounted. The animosity was obvious. The two teams combined for 263 yards in penalties and there were also two off setting penalties where both teams were charged with 15-yard penalties.
“It certainly wasn’t what you would call a clean game,” said James. “There was a lot of emotion on the field. There was frustration. We shot ourselves in the foot too many times, and I don’t know what caused them to come unglued with a 28-0 lead, but we finally started to find a rhythm with our offense, and found a couple of things that worked for us. We just started playing better. If you keep trying sometimes good things happen.”
James was proud of his team’s effort. “Down 28-0, our kids didn’t quit. It would have been easy to, but the kids kept playing. I’m very happy about that. Things were tough for a long time, but the team hung in there, and we had a chance, a good chance too. We played every down until it was over. We thought we had a good play on fourth down, but a linebacker slipped through on us. But the kids, they tried hard, and I’m proud of them.”
Blacksburg finished with 268 total yards. Johnston was 13 of 18 passing for 179 yards. The Bruins rushed 26 times for 89 yards. In two games Blacksburg was only able to run the football for 106 yards total against the Cougar defense, and the total yards for Blacksburg in both games was their fewest of the season.
Even after a poor 21-yard first half, the Cougars only finished with 47 fewer yards than the Bruins. Pulaski Countyr totaled 221 yards. The Cougars rushed for 128 on 39 carries. Finley had 52 on 21 runs, and Akers had 65 on 15. Akers was eight of 18 passing for 93 yards and suffered the two picks. Horton had four catches for 41 yards, Cody Gibbs two for 25, Finley one for 18, and O’Dell one for eight. Xavier Cobbs recovered a fumble for the Cougars.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot