By Dan Callahan
Cave Spring had scored and was ready to tie the game after another busted play in the secondary for Pulaski County. Out stepped Nick McGuire. The snap, the hold, and smack, he kicked the ball into the right upright. With 2:50 left to play the Cougars hang onto their one-point, 14-13 lead!
It was that type of football game that seemed destined to be decided on one team’s final mistake as opposed to one team making a winning play. There were six turnovers in the game, numerous missed opportunities, and a lot of poor execution. But add all those things up, and it still says Pulaski County 14, Cave Spring 13, and that’s four straight wins for the Cougars.
The first half of the game Kellen Dalton made big plays to keep Pulaski County in the fight. Late it was quarterback Kade Akers. But it was hard to overcome all the miscues. The two teams combined for six turnovers in the game, and probably about three times that many missed assignments, but still, the most important statistic is by far, 14-13 Pulaski County.
Akers ran for 92 yards on 24 carries in the game, and Dalton had two terrific leaping interceptions, one coming inside his team’s 10-yard line, and also caught a huge 27-yard pass on third and long which kept the first half touchdown drive alive.
But overall, it wasn’t pretty, and PCHS head coach Stephen James knew it. “Tim Fulton (coach) does a good job for Cave Spring. They gave us a couple of different looks, and caused us problems with our mechanics up front. Until we figured something out late, and just ran Kade, we couldn’t run the football. Some of the time we couldn’t get out of our own way. It was frustrating. We had a great week of practice. Then play that way is puzzling.”
There were some bright spots, but always followed up with mistakes. “Our defense played pretty darn good, but we busted assignments in the secondary four times, and those were the only four plays in the game that Cave Spring hurt us. But the Cave quarterback put the ball on the money when he had the opportunity and they caught it. We got 14. I’ll take it. I don’t know of anybody hat would ever turn down a win, but our overall execution must get better, our focus must get better. We just didn’t click on offense tonight, but there are any games left when we can afford not to click,” said James.
The Cougars got on the board in the middle of the second quarter on a one-yard dive by Jaceri Eaves. It ended a nine-play, 80-yard drive. Easily the best of the night. It was kept alive by the Akers to Dalton 27-yard hookup. But both offenses sputtered the rest of the half and Pulaski Co. was on top, 7-0 at the break.
The third quarter was again an offensive nightmare for the Cougars, and Cave quarterback Jacob Knight hit Austin Ragan on a streak behind the Cougars secondary for a 50-yard touchdown pass with 2:53 left in the quarter. McGuire was good on the conversion and the game was tied at 7-7.
The Knights picked off Akers, but the Cougar defense held Cave deep, and they had to punt out of their own end zone. Mason Clark made a running fair catch to give Pulaski Co. a first down at the Cave 27. It took seven plays, but on third and goal at the five, Eaves pushed over off the right side. Ryan Castle came on to kick his second conversion for a, 14-7 Cougar lead, and that would be the deciding point.
But the win should have come much easier for the Cougars. Following the kickoff the defense held strong again, forced a punt and it was first down at the 40. This time Pulaski Co. drove the football. Jaylin Nowlin ran for four, Akers for seven, then came a twisting run and Akers ran for 22, and Nowlin got seven to a first and goal at the seven. On the next play came another fumble, and Cave took over at their own nine.
And they drove , but the Cougar defense stiffened again, and it was third and long at the Cougar 38. Already the Knights had to convert a first down after being second and 25. This time Knight was under pressure and had to scramble away to his right, and suddenly he fired down field to a wide open Ragan for the touchdown. The Cougar d-back had fallen down. But then came the clank off the right upright, and the Cougars won, 14-13.
Pulaski Co. got three straight first downs following an on-sides kickoff attempt recovery by Conner Martin using power runs by Akers to run out the clock, and even though Cave knew was was coming, the Cougars still were finally able to move the ball on the ground.
Cave Spring finished with 302 total yards. Knight was 13 of 27 passing for 251 yards. The two touchdown passes were almost 100 of that. Ragan caught five passes for 107 yards and the two scores. The Knights could only rush the ball for 52 yards on 27 attempts.
Pulaski Co. finished with 260 total yards, but the two pass interceptions and the lost fumble inside the 10 were costly. E.J.Horton had four pass receptions for 40 yards, Dalton had the big 27-yarder, Clark had two for 33, and Braeden Blevins one for 14. Akers was eight of 19 passing for 114 yards. The Cougars rushed the ball for 146 yards on 44 tries, and 92 of that was Akers, and most of it came in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars will take their 4-1 record on the road to Roanoke next Friday for another River Ridge District game against Hidden Valley.