By Dan Callahan
The 2011 prep football season opens Friday evening, and it all gets underway with "The Battle of the Bridge.” Some people play games for a bucket of nails, the Floyd of Rosedale (that’s a pig), and things like a golden egg, or a sledge hammer, and all sorts of things, but Pulaski County and Radford, play for the right to cross the bridge with pride that separates the County of Pulaski, and the City of Radford.
The series was renewed two years ago and the teams have split. The Bobcats edged the Cougars last season in Dobson Stadium/Joel Hicks Field, but that was during trying times for the Pulaski County football program.
VHSL restrictions severely limited pre-season activity for the Cougars, plus there was no option for post-season play either.
Still, Pulaski County finished strong with a three-game winning streak to post a 5-5 record. It would be accurate to say that Todd Jones’ first team next to the big cornfield showed improvement.
Radford, for the second season in a row, advanced to the state semi-final, and no doubt the Bobcats want to continue that theme of success and will have the home field advantage this time.
"We’re working and preparing hard,” said Jones this week. "Radford is an excellent season opening opponent, big up front, and with good skill people, and everybody knows how much each team wants to win.”
Jones says there are many things his Cougars must do to be successful Friday evening. "Radford uses a lot of formations so it will be important for our defense to read its keys, know what we’re looking at and react to it. We want no turnovers, and we need to keep good field position. Those are battles we need to win.”
Pulaski County no doubt remembers the season opening defeat to Radford in 2010, but Jones says that will not be a factor in this year’s game.
"What happened last year doesn’t matter. I don’t want to talk about our situation last season. Our kids were put in a tough spot, but we did not ever once use it as an excuse, and that’s all gone now. This year is this year.
“As a team and coaching staff we have not talked about last season’s game, and we won’t. That would serve no purpose. This game is about this season, and that’s all we’re concerned about.”
Everybody loves to have bragging rights over a neighboring opponent, but Jones says should his team be victorious over Radford, there is no celebration planned.
"I guess we’ll just drive back across the bridge like we ususally do. We can’t get caught up too much in the emotion. Blocking and tackling is going to decide the issue. Those are the two most important things. And if we get the job done, we’ll get back to the coaching office, grab a quick bite to eat, get out the film, and go to work on Northside. It’s one game. We want to win one game. That game right now is Radford. We want to win this game, but then it’s on to the next game. This is a big game, it’s our first one, and it’s Radford. We know how much our community wants to win, and we’re going to do the very best we can to win it. The Cougars will be ready,” said Jones.
Pulaski County will go full two-platoon against the Bobcats except in special situations, and Jones hopes to be able to do it that way for as much of the season as possible. The starting defense has allowed but one touchdown during pre-season action, and the starting lineup figures to be senior Pierce Rigney (6-2, 212) and jr. James King (6-3, 225) at the ends, if the Cougars use two down inside tackles they will be 6-3, 270 sophomore Kareen Calfee and 6-1, 230 sr. Phoenix Ramsey.
The linebackers, and sometimes in certain situations, Pulaski County could play as many as five backers, sr. 6-1, 191 Cody Long, 6-2, 178 sr. Gabe LeBlanc, 5-6, 175 jr. Adam Allen, 5-10, 185 jr. Zach Dao, and 6-0, 218 Elijah Wesley.
The secondary will consist of sr. Corky Hall, soph. Dillon Alley, soph. Marcus Johnston or junior Tyler Dotson, sr. Kevin Powell or sr. Andrew Samuelson will also likely see playing time.
Offensively, the Cougars will see both Dotson and Johnston play quarterback, 5-10, 187 jr. Marcus McClanahan will be the tailback, 5-10, 201 sr. Rick Cobbs is the fullback, and 5-6, 156 sr. Brandon Brock is the wing.
The offensive front will have 5-11, 217 jr. Tyler Golden starting at center, 5-11, 226 sr. Sammy Songer, and 5-10, 225 jr. Chris Belcher will be the guards, and tackles will be 6-0, 205 jr. Codie Blevins and 6-3, 220 soph. James Reynolds.
The wideouts for the Cougars will be 6-2, 208 jr. Zack Akers, 5-11, 173 sr. Taylor Bratton, 6-4, 164 sr. Bryan Cox, and 5-10, 153 sr. Cody Smythers. Akers was will handle the kicking, and Johnston the punting.