By Dan Callahan
Roanoke– Pulaski County threw four pass interceptions, lost a fumble, and botched a bouncing kickoff to lose another possession as it fell in disappointing fashion Friday evening to Patrick Henry, 38-14 on the road.
It all started with the opening possession of the game. On a third down pass from Grant Jennings to Daniel Gray, the PH wide receiver stepped through three Cougar missed tackles for a 62-yard gain. After nine plays and 81 yards Brandon Smith put PH up 7-0 on a three-yard run.
Following the kickoff on a third down play Pulaski Co. quarterback Kade Akers attempted to get away from Patriot pressure and get rid of the football. It was deflected into into the air and caught by defensive tackle Charles Boxley. One play later Smith zipped up the middle and scored untouched from 22 yards out and it was 14-0 and there was still 7:39 left in the first quarter.
For the rest of the half Pulaski Co. would get two or three first downs only to be thwarted by three first half interceptions, one at the PH 36 and the other just before halftime in the PH end zone. The Cougars had rung the bell on a 26-yard pass from Akers to Kellen Dalton to cut the lead to seven, 14-7 earlier, but PH promptly drove 81 yards to go back up, 21-7.
The second half featured a steady ground game by the Patriots, another interception, the botched kickoff, and penalties for Pulaski Co. The Cougars gained a lot of yards, and had their best running game of the season, but could not overcome its mistakes.
Avery Fulton kicked a 40-yard field goal for PH to put the Patriots up, 24-7 with just 5:40 left to play, but there would be more points. Jennings hit Gray on a 24-yard touchdown pass over the middle, and Tishawn Simpson returned the final interception 27 yards for the game’s final score.
In between all that, Akers gave a determined effort, breaking two tackles and ran 26 yards to paydirt for the Cougars. Ryan Castle hit both his conversion kicks. Pulaski Co. out-gained PH, 347-284 in the game, but PH did not commit a turnover, and were able to finish their drives. The Cougars could not.
“We were running the ball well,” said PCHS head coach Stephen James. “Kade was having an off night and we wanted to continue running the ball, but we would get a penalty, and we were chasing the chains the whole game. The turnovers were the difference. We lost possessions, scoring opportunities, and they gained possessions. But we were not sharp. We had good practices all week, and the turnovers were bad, but we make mistakes in other areas as well. We moved the football, but we stopped ourselves from finishing possessions.”
Akers seemed to have trouble finding open receivers and there seemed little separation from the PH secondary. “They went straight man and did a good job. They have good athletes back there and they deserve credit. But were were late on some throws, and just not sharp. We had some youthful mistakes at times, but we’ve got some things to fix. This was disappointing,” added James.
Pulaski Co. ran the football 36 times for 218 yards, and gained 129 through the air for its 347 yards. The Cougars also out first downed PH, 18-15, but PH committed no turnovers.
Jaylin Nowlin ran 13 times for 98 yards, Akers got 77 on 10 runs, Jaceri Eaves had 28 on six, Jacori Finley 14 on five, and E.J. Horton two on one. Akers was nine of 24 passing for 129 yards, his least productive game of the season, and the four interceptions were his most in a single game as well. Dalton had five catches for 83 yards, Mason Clark three for 35, and Horton one for seven. Nine penalties for 80 yards also cost the Cougars almost 100 yards gained as well.
PH finished with 284 total yards, 148 rushing and 136 passing. Jennings was eight of 16 throwing, and Gray caught five of the eight completions for an even 100 yards. Smith led PH with 98 rushing yards on 28 attempts, and Josh Taylor had seven runs for 51.
Pulaski County will face rival Salem at home in Dobson Stadium next Friday. The Cougars are now 6-3 on the season, PH also 6-3.