By Dan Callahan
Going in, this looked very much like an offensive type of football game, two teams averaging close to 40 points per game with lots of firepower, play makers, but it didn’t end up being that sort of game at all. It was a defensive victory for Blacksburg and a hugely disappointing defeat for Pulaski County, 17-13.
The first loss of the season to Patrick Henry hurt, but the Patriots are having an outstanding season, but this was a loss to a 2-4 football team, and one that had been giving up points by the bucket full. But just as in the loss to PH, the Cougar defense only allowed 17, but the offense sputtered. The defense played well enough to win, the offense did not. On the Cougars’ first possession of the game they drove steadily downfield and put the ball in the end zone on a beautiful change of direction run of 35 yards by Hunter Thomas. It was a 72-yard drive in 11 plays, ane Pulaski Co. jumped on top 7-0. But that was it. Little was accomplished again until the fourth quarter.
“We start the game, drive the ball down the field, block the right people, do the job, execute and things are fine. Then we just stopped getting it done. We didn’t block ’em. People talk about how many people are in the box. We practice against eight in the box routinely. You block your zone. Many times tonight we didn’t. I don’t know why. But we got whipped up front. We’ve got to take a look at the offensive line. Our defense played well enough to win, but even they hurt themselves. We kept three Blacksburg possessions alive with penalties. Instead of punting, they get a first down because of our mistakes. We dropped passes. We’re going back to the drawing board. We need to look at some things. We are going back to work on Monday,” said an upset Cougar head coach Stephen James.
Blacksburg gained more yards on Cougar penalties on the way to their second touchdown than the Bruins actually gained in yardage. The Cougars were whistled for 10 penalties for 85 yards and many of them were crucial. Quarterback Bryant Grubb was thrown for losses four times of eight or more yards. The Cougars had a kick blocked for the third straight game. PCHS also lost a first down deep in Bruins territory in the second quarter when an option pitch was fumbled. “Offense had little to do with this for Blacksburg. It was a defensive win for them. But it was a bad loss for us. We’ve got some things to fix,” added James.
After Pulaski Co. took the early 7-0 lead, the Bruins got a big run from Coleton Beck, a couple of missed Cougar tackles, and then a 15-yard penalty for a tackle out of bounds on the Cougar defense. Grant Johnston passed 11 yards to Tiquest Terry for the touchdown. Beck scored on a 17-yard run with just 51 seconds left in the half after Pulaski Co. had committed third down and fourth down penalties. It was 14-7 at the half.
Little happened in the third quarter with few meaningful yards being gained by either team. Then following back-to-back fourth down penalties the Cougars were forced to punt from deep, and the Bruins got a good punt return, but could not find paydirt. Camden Wise connected on a 33-yard field goal in the final minute of the third quarter, but the stand kept Pulaski County very much in contention. And the Cougars finally started to move the ball a bit, but after reaching the Blacksburg red zone, a pass was dropped, then Grubb was sacked, and the drive fizzled.
But the Cougar defense continued to hold as it did most of the game, and Pulaski Co. started an agonizing drive from its own 28. Twice there were third down conversions and twice first downs were gained on fourth down, and finally on a fourth down play Grubb rolled right, looked to run, then spotted Conner Martin inside the five right on the hash mark. Martin caught the pass, twisted past a Bruin defender and into the end zone to complete a 15-yard touchdown play. But then the extra point kick was blocked, and the four-point deficit, 17-13, put the Cougars’ backs against the wall, and Blacksburg played the clock well down the stretch. It was a sad ending to the evening for the Cougars.
There were really no big offensive numbers in the game. Pulaski Co. finished with 282 yards of total offense, Blacksburg 244. The Cougars ran the pigskin 48 times for 188 yards. Thomas got 138 of those on 28 carries, and he got a considerable portion of those yards on his own individual effort. Grubb, even with the sacks, still managed to pick up 41 yards on 12 carries. The Bruins rushed for 132 yards on 27 tries. Terry got 64 on 13 carries, and Beck 59 on 12.
The passing games didn’t produce a great deal for either team as well. Grubb was eight of 18 for Pulaski Co., but was under pressure most of the game. He passed for 91 yards and a touchdown. Johnston was 11 of 24 with an interception for Blacksburg for 112 yards, and a score. Defensive tackle Zach Dones got the interception for the Cougars when Johnston was trying to get rid of the ball while under pressure from Drew Allen. The Cougars had a first down at the Bruin 40, but Grubb was sacked twice. Martin had three catches for 25 yards for the Cougars, Thomas two for 44, and Dontay Brown three for 25. Terry caught five for 41 for the Bruins, Beck two for 35, and Thomas Coffey two for 27.
Pulaski County returns home next Friday to play Carroll County.