By DAVID GRAVELY
SWT Sports Editor
The Cougar football team will be looking to get the train back on the tracks this Friday, but to do so they will have to win the annual “Battle of the Bridge” in Radford against the Bobcats.
Pulaski County (0-1) is now trailing in the series with Radford (0-1) by a margin of three games to four. The Bobcats won the opening matchup with the Cougars in 1976 under then Head Coach Dave Brown, and then the two teams tied in 1977. In 1978 Pulaski again fell to the Bobcats, this time by a score of 13-0. The following season, first year Head Coach Joel Hicks led Pulaski to 13-0 win over Radford.
The two teams would not play again until 2009, 30 years later. Then Head Coach Jack Turner led the Cougars to a 19-7 win in the renewal of the game that has quickly become a fan favorite and a huge money maker for both schools.
The 2010 season saw current Head Coach Todd Jones taking the reigns of the program. After being forced to miss out on a preseason scrimmage and several practices due to VHSL sanctions, the Cougars dropped that opening night game to Radford by a score of 32-29. The Bobcats got the best of Pulaski again in 2011, winning 13-12. Last year, the Cougars came roaring out of the gates and earned a 41-9 victory to start the season.
Radford, much like Pulaski, had a tough start to their 2013 season. On the road in Wytheville, the Bobcats fell to last years State Champion George Wythe Maroons by a final score of 21-14. The Bobcats have an athletic group of players, led by a young quarterback and a seasoned defense, but they are few in numbers and depth.
Pulaski is coming off of a 30-14 loss to Christiansburg, along with a preseason that has been less than stellar for the Cougars. Many questions have remained unanswered in the offensive and defensive fronts. A “go-to guy” has yet to emerge in the rushing attack. The defense has played well at times, but then give up big plays for first down yardage or scores.
For Coach Jones, it’s time for his players to step up to the challenge or move aside for the next man in line.
“We’re expecting to play some younger players this week at certain positions,” said Jones. “We’ve got some kids who are hungry for playing time, and they’ve been showing that in practice. We need our seniors to take a leadership role on this team, but if a younger player is going to put in the work and effort to start, we’re not holding him back. It makes us stronger as a team in the end.”
One player who may be getting that chance is sophomore lineman Bradley Church. At 6’3″ tall and 188 pounds, Church has been a dominating force for the junior varsity team so far this season, reeking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and running backs. Sophomore Chase Huff (5’11”, 165) got the call last week during the Christiansburg game. Huff was sent in as Jones and his staff looked for an answer to the Blue Demon running game and performed well. Another youngster that could see action may include sophomore Elliot Brewster, a 6′, 175 pound wide receiver and defensive back.
As of press time, the Cougar will start Marcus Johnston at quarterback, Tanner Dotson at center, and Quincy Rollins at the A-back. Tyler Ervine will be the split-back, Brandon Jones will be the H-back, and Dillon Alley will be the wing-back. Rhen Jones and Bret Smith will line up at the guard spots, and Kareem Calfee and James Reynolds will line up at the tackles. Heath White will be lined up at the tight-end spot, and the kicker will be Shane Chrisley.
On defense, Pulaski will put Rob Quesenberry at the nose-guard, and a combination of Church, Calfee, Reynolds, and Alex Simmons or Andrew Williams at the tackles. Linebackers will be Heath White, J.D. Sutphin, and Jake Callahan. Expect to see Huff in the mix at either a linebacker, end, or strong safety. The corners will be Jesse Draper and Marcus Payne. The safety will be Malik Eaves, and a combination of Callahan, Jones, and Alley will be in action as well. Senior Jake Tabor will most likely not be available this week after sustaining a possible concussion in last weeks action. Jones stated that they would be overly cautious in any head injuries, and athletes are required to be cleared by their personal doctors before returning to action.
For Radford, sophomore Marcus Finley (5’10”, 150) will line up as the quarterback. The wing-backs will be seniors R.J. Jordan (5’10”, 165) and D’Andre Cook (5’11”, 185). The fullback will be senior Isiah Carter (5’4″, 170), and the wide receivers will be seniors Grayson Howard (5’10”, 150) and Matt Levison (5’8″, 150). The center will be sophomore Nick Ridpath (6’2, 220). The guards will be senior Zach Clark (6′, 195) and sophomore Omar Ismaiel (6′, 300), and the tackles will be senior Eric Benitez (5’11”, 190) and junior Jairon Richardson (6’2″, 285).
On defense, the Bobcats will have Richardson, Ridpath, Ismaiel, and Jordan on the line along with senior Felix Martinez (6′, 210) and junior Brandon Boatman (5’10”, 165). The linebackers will be sophomore Heth Grant (5’8″, 170), Benitez, and senior Alex Wright (6′, 180). The corners will be Jordan and freshman D.J. Baylor (5’6″, 130), and the safety will be Cook. Senior Stewart Bell (6’2″, 185) should be lined up as one of the defensive ends.
“We need to line up, play with confidence, and dictate the pace of the game,” said Jones. “Our kids need to understand that the pace of the game is a “twelfth man” for us. Our offensive line needs to come off the ball and open up the holes. Our backs
need to run in the open spaces and avoid running side to side. We can’t drop the ball when we get the chance to pass, and we can’t fumble. On defense, we need to be more physical and stop giving up the big plays. We also need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. It doesn’t do us any good to gain thirty yards and then either fumble the ball or give up a sack. We have to finish our drives. In the end, it all comes down to blocking and tackling, protecting the ball, and moving the chains.”
Many have heard the rumblings around Pulaski County the past three weeks. Fans want the wins, and they want them now. That’s the way it’s always been in the Cougar Den, and I don’t expect it to change now.
“I believe in this team and these kids, but they need to believe in themselves and just play football,” said Jones. “Sometimes it looks like the kids are playing to not make a mistake instead of to win. We can’t play like that. This is a great group, and I know they’ve got it in them. We want them to open it up and play with some emotion. This is Cougar football. It’s time for us to show it.”
Game time is set for 7 p.m.. Tickets may be purchased in advance at The Medicine Shop/Main Street Pharmacy in Radford, the Radford Rec Center, at the pharmacy at the main hospital in Radford, and at all Radford City Schools. Tickets are $5 either in advance or at the gate.
One other important note for fans is that the entrance at the west side of the field will not be open. Only the main gate and the gate near the armory will be open, but extra ticket booths will be in operation.