By Dan Callahan
Roanoke– Pulaski County used the big play on offense and defense to dominate Hidden Valley in Roanoke Friday evening, 44-6. The win was the 5th straight for the Cougars who are now 5-1 on the season with Homecoming scheduled in Dobson Stadium next Friday.
The Cougars scored on plays covering 29 or more yards five times and were in control from the opening kickoff. The defense also controlled Titan quarterback Jonah Fitzgerald who came into the game with over 6,000 career passing yards, and had rushed for over 500 yards this season. The Cougars picked him off three times. The ball hawking defense came up with five turnovers in the game. The Pulaski Co. defense now has 16 turnovers on the season, 11 pass interceptions, and five fumble recoveries.
“We made plays on both sides of the ball tonight, and when you do that good things happen,” said PCHS head coach Stephen James. “The defense contained Fitzgerald, gave up a few yards, but turned the ball over. Offensively our offensive front pass blocked really well. We moved the chains, converted some third downs (20 first downs in the game). It helped us by getting on top early.”
James was also thrilled with the kicking game, the most obvious improvement on the team from a season ago. Conner Martin had his best punts when backed up to his own goal line, and his 48-yarder in the third quarter was the longest in his career. Placement kicker Ryan Castle is now 20-22 on extra point kicks, and a perfect five for five on field goals for 40 points. “I’m really happy with our kicking game, tremendous improvement. There’s been some work there, and Ryan and Conner have been really good.”
The Cougars scored on their first possession when quarterback Kade Akers connected with wide receiver E.J. Horton on a quick slant pass. Horton split the Hidden Valley secondary and ran 66 yards to paydirt. The next touchdown came at the end of an 80-yard drive during which Akers had runs of 13 and 27 yards. Jaceri Eave ran through a gaping hole from the nine for six, and it was 14-0 with 3:51 still remaining in the first quarter.
At that point the Cougar offense bogged down and made little happen on four consecutive possessions, but the defense kept playing lights out. With 1:38 left in the half the Titans decided to go on a fourth down at their own 44. It was a mistake. The Cougar defense held and two plays later Akers hit Kellen Dalton down the sideline on a stop and go route for 29 yards and a touchdown. A two-point conversion try failed.
Following the kickoff the Titans were held deep and had to punt from their own five. Then Akers hit Mason Clark over the middle for 24 yards, and Hidden Valley was called for a face masking penalty on the tackle. Out trotted Castle, and he was dead on with a field goal from 41 yards on the final play of the first half for a, 23-0 Cougar lead.
It mounted quickly. On the first possession of the second half Akers rolled right and hit a streaking Horton down the right sideline who made the catch at the 30 and was gone for a 70-yard touchdown play. The Cougars started a 73-yard drive late in the third quarter and Jaylin Nowlin scored on a nine yard run after a big pass and catch from Akers to Braeden Blevins of 26 yards.
The rest of the game belonged to the defense. Inside linebacker Alex Akers picked of Fitzgerald and roared 47 yards for a touchdown, and late in the game Travis Byrd also recovered a fumble deep in Titan territory, but the game had gone to a continuous clock and, 44-6 was enough.
Defensively James Jackson, Alex Akers, and Jacori Finley all had interceptions for the Cougars. and Reymon Williams also had a fumble recovery to go along with Byrd’s. Linebacker coach Buddy Ratcliffe said following the game, “Alex and Reymon are playing as well as any pair of inside linebackers I’ve ever coached. I’m really pleased with how they have played, they are smart, are in the right place, and make tackles, make plays.”
Kade Akers was 12 of 25 passing for 350 yards and three touchdowns. It was a huge night for Horton who caught four passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Clark also had a good night with four catches for 118 yards, Dalton had two for 46 and a score, and Blevins caught two aerials for 40.
The Cougars ran for 103 yards on 34 attempts. Kade Akers led the way with 44 on 11 carries. Pulaski County finished with 453 total yards.
Hidden Valley finished with 280 yards total offense, but suffered the five turnovers and Fitzgerald was only 12 of 30 with the three picks for 215. The Titans managed only 65 yards rushing on 27 carries. The Titans had been averaging 71 plays a game, but got off only 57 snaps against the Cougar defense. Fitzgerald was only able to run for 49 yards on 14 carries.