Rematch: Pulaski Co. vs. Blacksburg

     The VHSL Playoffs get underway in Dobson Stadium Friday night. Pulaski County, third seed in Class 4, Region D, has the home field advantage. The opponent is familiar. It’s 6th seeded Blacksburg. For the second straight football season, the Cougars and Bruins will battle twice. Last year Blacksburg defeated Pulaski County by a touchdown in both matchups. Earlier this season, the Cougars had one of their finest overall performances, defeating the Bruins, 12-3.
     This will be Pulaski County’s 28th appearance in the playoffs in school history. The Cougars have played 53 playoff games, and have a 27-26 record. The Cougars are averaging 24.6 points per game this season, the opposition just 9.8. The Cougars enter the playoffs 8-2 on the season, and Blacksburg is 6-4 after being upset last week by Christiansburg.
      The particulars have not changed for Blacksburg. Brian Mitchell is still the chief offensive threat with 845 yards on 110 carries, a 7.6 average. Luke Goforth is 104 for 196 passing for 1,716 yards with 13 interceptions after getting picked five times last week. Kareem Muhammed is the leading receiver with 41 catches for 677 yards and seven touchdowns. Joshua Gholston has 22 catches for 477 yards and three scores, and Mitchell has 19 receptions for 288 yards and four touchdowns. The leading tacklers for the Bruins are linebacker Parker Epperley with 71 tackles and defensive end Darius Norris with 55.
     In the first game between the two teams Pulaski County’s defense shutdown the vaunted Bruin offense and held it to just 64 yards of total offense. As the game progressed the Cougars took control of the line of scrimmage and put up 242 total yards. Both Keyontae Kennedy and Chris Shay finished close to 100 yards rushing. PCHS Stephen James would love a repeat of that.
     “Obviously, we want the same type game. We want to grind it out offensively, and continue to play really well on defense. Nothing has changed. You would love to play as well as we did in the first game again, but Blacksburg has weapons. There’s a lot to defend.”
     James also doesn’t look for any major changes in the game. “It’s game 11. We are both who we are. They do what they do, and we’re different, but we do what we do too. Certainly we need to be on our toes. They could tweek something here and there.”
     James doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that in rematches the advantage goes to the team that got beat the first game. “We had some tough things happen to us the previous three games we played with Blacksburg, all tough losses, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be exited to play them again. It’s the playoffs. We had a really good regular season. Now everything is new. This is win and move on, or lose and the season is over. I think our kids would like to beat Blacksburg twice.”
      And James says the Cougars are healthy. “We’re as good physically as you could hope to be after 10 games. We’re ready to go. You hold nothing back. You don’t have anything to worry about but winning this game. Everybody needs to be ready to play. I think we will. We want to play hard and physical, win the line of scrimmage,” said James.
      Leading the running attack for the Cougars will be Keyontae Kennedy who has 551 yards rushing on the season, and Chris Shay with 425. Quarterback A.J. McCloud is 58 of 133 passing for 590 yards with 17 interceptions and four touchdowns.
     The Cougar defense is allowing only 129 total yards a game. Austin Gallimore leads the way with 88 tackles, Luke Russell has 66, Ethan Gallimore 49, and Chris Shay 38. There have been 44 quarterback sacks. Ethan Gallimore has 13, Tristan Bowden nine, and Austin Gallimore six. Russell leads the way in tackles for loss with 22, and Austin Gallimore has 16.
     The starting offense for the Cougars will have Clayton Phillips, 6-2, 287 jr. and Cooper Dunnigan, 6-3, 280 jr. at the tackles, the guards will be 5-11, 250 sr. Tyler Brookman and 6-1, 285 soph. Markus Wright, the center is 6-0, 280 jr. Levi Young. McCloud, 6-3, 185 jr. is the quarterback, Kennedy, 5-10, 180 soph. and Shay, 5-11, 185 sr. along with Gage Mannon, a 6-0, 205 sr., Russell, a 5-11, 185 sr., and the Gallimores will be in the backfield. The wideouts will be 5-8, 180 sr. Logan Burchett, 5-11, 190 jr. Chase Dotson, 6-2, 185 jr. Layne Suthers, and 5-8, 145 soph. John Lyman. Broc Simpson will do both the punting and kicking, Bryant Worrell is the long snapper and Burchett the holder.
     Defensively, Pulaski County will lineup 6-2, 290 jr. Zeke Surber on the nose, the outside tackles will be 5-8, 185 jr. Will Bishop and 5-10, 195 sr. Bowden. The outside backers will be 5-9, 185 jr. Ethan Gallimore and 6-3, 220 jr. Chayton Rollins. The inside backers will be Austin Gallimore, 5-9, 205 sr. and Russell, a 5-11, 185 sr. The defensive backs will be Corvin Carter, a 5-11, 108 jr., Mannon, Shay, and Suthers.
      Cougar Paws: Gates to Dobson Stadium will open at 5:30. … The leading scorer on the team for the Cougars is Simpson who has hit on 29-31 extra point kicks and 10 of 12 field goals for 59 points. … Pulaski County is now 325-185-3 in program history, and has scored 12,364 points, an average of 24.2 per game, and allowed 8,316 points, an average of 16.2 points per game. So this Cougar team is scoring at about the average in the history of the program, and allowing an average of about a touchdown less per game. … If you cannot make it out to the game, you can listen live on “107 Country PSK.” Broadcast time is 6:15 with the Insurance Center of Dublin pregame show.
By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot