By MASON CLARK
After keeping up a little through the first half, Salem’s explosiveness led to several big plays that proved too much for the Cougars to overcome in a 49-14 pounding on the road in Salem on Friday night. The loss continues a now fourteen-game skid for the Cougars against Salem in what once was a fiercely competitive rivalry. It was a tough night.
Things didn’t look good early. Pulaski County went three-and-out on their first possession and punted, and Salem wasted little time getting started. Senior quarterback DaRon Wilson made a great play on a third-and-long to complete a pass for a first down to extend the drive. Shortly after, a short pass became a touchdown when a Salem receiver’s run after the catch got him into the end zone. 7-0 Spartans.
The Cougars responded at first. They put together a good drive, solid 5-7 yard gains to move the football into Spartan territory. But a fumble would stall the drive, and against the Spartans, you will pay for your transgressions. The very first play, a short throw on a hitch route resulted in an 87-yard touchdown pass. Just like that, it was 14-0 Salem, end of the first quarter.
If nothing else, the Cougars didn’t just roll over and quit. The offensive line dug in and blocked, Trevor Burton as well as Taner Mace and Chris Gallimore ran the ball well, and eventually Burton found the end zone for the fifteenth time this season. 14-7, and we had some life.
Then Peyton Lewis finally got loose. The state champion trackstar who doubles as a tailback fielded the ensuing kickoff, made a great cut, turned on his patented afterburners, and was off to the races. And Peyton Lewis does not lose footraces. The PAT was blocked and the score held at 20-7.
But again, Pulaski County went back to work. Short, tough runs counted up and cashed out with another Burton score, this one from three yards out and this made it a one-possession football game, 20-14.
But on this night, there would be no stopping Salem’s explosiveness. Senior DaRon Wilson operated a good two-minute drill, and with 3 seconds left, he fired a lob to the back of the end zone, where a Salem receiver made a nice contested catch for his second touchdown grab of the night. This left the score at 27-14 at the break.
Salem got the ball coming out of the second half and wasted no time going right down the field, with Jayveon Jones catching a short pass in the flats and found the end 9’e to make the lead 34-14. For the Cougar offense, the execution just wasn’t there in the second half. After we were forced to punt, track star Peyton Lewis flashed his 10.62 100-meter speed as he took it 74 yards down the home sideline to stretch the lead to 40-14. A botched snap on the PAY resulted in Wilson running around for about 15 seconds in the backfield before finding an open man for a two-point conversion, making it 42-14. The Cougars again went three and out, and Lewis finished the night off with a 46-yard scamper. That gave us the final score of 49-14.
That makes it 14 straight for Salem in this once fiercely competitive rivalry, which is hardly a rivalry anymore. One has to wonder how many more we can drop to the Spartans before it’s no longer considered a rivalry. Hopefully it will come to an end asap.
Trevor Burton continued his stellar season with 25 attempts for 88 yards and 2 touchdowns. Taner Mace had his best rushing performance with 8 attempts for 63 yards with three runs of over ten yards. Brett Jones had 5 carries for 61 yards including a freak play where he caught a fumble out of thin air and picked up significant yardage. Chris Gallimore ran 9 times for 27 yards and was 2/5 passing for 15 yards, both completions going to wideout Marcus Reed.
Salem’s Wilson went 11/14 passing for 236 yards and four touchdowns as the pattern of the Cougs struggling to defend the pass continued. Peyton Lewis rushed 5 times fkr 142 yards and 2 touchdowns and returned a kickoff 88 yards for another score, giving the blazing fast junior 230 all-purpose yards and 3 scores on a mere six touches. Jonathan Vernon was the Spartans’ top receiver with 3 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Josiah Moyer had 2 grabs for 40 yards and 2 touchdowns, both starting and ending the scoring in the first half. Jones had 2 for 39 and another score.
Pulaski County ran a total of 57 plays for 255 yards, which isn’t necessarily that bad in a vacuum, but when the opposition runs just 34 plays and gets 465 yards of offense, it isn’t enough. This is a tough loss for the Cougars.
The Cougars will host winless Blacksburg next Friday for Homecoming before a very hard three-game stretch against Graham (6-0), Patrick Henry (5-1) and Christiansburg (4-2). The Cougars likely need at least two wins to make the playoffs. Western Albemarle also lost Friday, so the Cougars will likely remain right at that 8/9 borderline for playoff contention. But the margin for error is getting smaller. Western albemarle has two very winnable games against Monticello and Fluvanna County, while the Cougs will be heavily favored next week against the Bruins, the next three games will be very tough. We must play our best football starting now.