By DAVID GRAVELY
SWT Sports Editor
Senior leadership on the field pushed the Pulaski County Cougars to a new level Friday night, as they blasted the visiting Staunton River Golden Eagles 34-10.
“As seniors, we’re going to put a stop to the mistakes and lead this team,” said senior lineman James Reynolds in the locker room after the game.
Reynolds, along with fellow seniors Kareem Calfee, Heath White, Rob Quesenberry, Jake Tabor, JD Sutphin, and Josh Epperly all had a hand in a defense that held the wing-T offense of Staunton River to 206 total yards rushing and no pass completions.
Calfee, Rhen Jones, Bret Smith, Marcus Johnston, Quincy Rollins, Tyler Ervine, Dillon Alley, and Brandon Jones were the leaders of an offense that tallied 429 total yards, with 328 yards rushing and 101 yards passing.
The Cougar defense set the tone early, forcing a punt on Staunton Rivers first drive of the night.
Pulaski came out with an effective passing attack to start their first series, with Johnston completing passes to Malik Eaves for 7 and 10 yards on the first two plays. Johnston called his own number next, running for 10 yards and 7 yards on back-to-back carries. On second down and three, Johnston rolled right and hit Dillon Alley on a pass to the home sideline. Alley broke a tackle, avoided another defender, and went 30 yards for the touchdown. Shane Chrisley hit the first of many kicks on the night during the point after touchdown attempt, moving the Cougars ahead 7-0 with 7:42 remaining in the first quarter.
The Golden Eagles would go back to the ground game, and after moving the ball 74 yards in 9 plays Ramir Hunt would fumble the ball at the Cougar 9-yard line, where Chase Huff would recover for Pulaski at the 14-yard line.
Six plays later, the Cougars would return the favor and make one of their few mistakes for the night when Rollins had the ball knocked loose and an alert defender pounced on the ball.
Staunton River would go on a ten play drive covering 53 yards to tie the score, with Deshawn Martin taking the ball into the end zone from 4 yards out with 9:41 left in the first half. Adam Deponte was good on the PAT to tie things up at 7-7.
The Cougars then alternated between Rollins and Johnston running the ball and three passes from Johnston to move the ball 44 yards to the Eagles 21-yard line. Chrisley was called upon to save the drive after it stalled, and his kick was good on the 38-yard field goal to give the Cougars the 10-7 lead.
The Eagles answered with a field goal of their own five minutes later, with Daponte hitting 34-yard field goal at the 1:37 mark of the second quarter.
The second half saw a much more determined Cougar squad taking the field. After an incomplete pass and a 9-yard run by Jones, Dillon Alley broke fee down the visitors side of the field for what would turn into a 77-yard touchdown run,. Chrisley was again good on the PAT, moving the Cougars ahead 17-10.
It would never get any closer than that, and the Cougar conditioning would start to cause problems for the Golden Eagles early in the second half.
After Staunton River was forced to punt on their next drive, the Cougars would go on a punishing and time consuming drive that covered 94 yards, with Johnston carrying the ball into the end zone for the score on a 2-yard run. The Chrisley PAT put Pulaski ahead 24-10, and for the first time this season the Cougars were starting to feel it.
Big hit after big hit highlighted the next Golden Eagle drive, which ended in exactly four plays after another Daponte punt.
Rollins carried the ball for 14 yards on first down, giving the Cougars a first down at the Eagles 42-yard line. Alley then carried the mail for his fourth and final time of the night, going 42 yards to pay dirt for his third touchdown of the night. With 10:46 left in the game, Chrisley hit his fourth PAT of the night to give Pulaski the 31-10 lead.
The Golden Eagles didn’t give up, but after seven plays they turned the ball over on downs, putting the Cougars back into business. Rollins rushed for a 5-yard gain and then Jones ran for 13 yards to earn another Cougar first down. Pulaski began to move new players into the game, and on his first run of the game Austin Harless ran the ball for a 2-yard gain. Cody Semones carried the ball for 1-yard before quarterback Jesse Draper carried the ball for 7 yards and a first down. Semones gained another yard on his next carry, followed by a 5-yard gain by Harless and a 1-yard run by Draper. Chrisley capped off an outstanding night by hitting a 37-yard field goal with 3:30 remaining on the clock, moving the score to 34-10.
The Cougar defense held up their end of the bargain, dropping the Golden Eagle quarterback for a big loss on the final play of the game.
“The offensive line did a great job for us tonight,” said Dillon Alley. “Quincy (Rollins) was also doing a great job kicking out the defender on the end, which opened me up for some big runs. This is the way we are supposed to play all the time.”
Alley would finish the night as the leading rusher with four carries for 125 yards and two rushing touchdowns and one catch for a 30-yard touchdown.
Quincy “I think I can” Rollins proved that it’s always better to be the hammer than to be the nail with 12 carries for 110 yards. Many of his rushing attempts ended with him on top of defenders.
Quarterback Marcus Johnston ended with 13 rushing attempts for 53 yards, along with completing 8-of-12 passes for 101 yards. He ran and threw for a touchdown in the contest. Brandon Jones added 29 yards of rushing on five attempts.
“At halftime, we talked about missed opportunities and penalties,” said Cougar Head Coach Todd Jones. “We knew we wanted to push the pace of the game, and they had several kids going both ways. I think we played a little more physical tonight on both sides of the ball. Our backs finished their runs strong. Our defense pursued the ball well. Our secondary did a great job of taking away the pass, and I thought the middle of our defensive line stepped it up in the second half. We held them to just a few yards of offense in the second half. We still have plenty of work to do, but this was a good step in the right direction. I was also glad to see our offense continue to move the ball even after we started moving new players into the lineup.”
“We played like a team tonight,” said senior linebacker Heath White. “Our secondary wouldn’t let them pass, so they had to run. The defensive line did a good job stopping the run up the middle, and they pushed it outside where JD (Sutphin) or I would be waiting. We got it right tonight.”
On top of the seniors, many underclassmen played a big part in the win. Junior Malik Eaves had four catches for 33 yards and was a key part of the secondary along with junior Marcus Payne. Jake Callahan did a solid job all night at tight-end, which allowed White to play defense only. Sophomores Chase Huff and Elliot Brewster played well again at the defensive ends, and sophomore Bradley Church continued to improve on the defensive line. Junior Tanner Dotson played an almost flawless game at center, and junior Austin Leeper got the chance tonight to show his stuff on the defensive line as well.
“We just need to keep hitting them baby,” said senior linebacker JD Sutphin, who is known for his love of contact. “The longer the game went, the stronger we got. We just need to keep hitting them.”
Yes JD … just keep hitting them.
The Cougars will be at home again this week, and the Carroll County Cavaliers will come to visit for Homecoming. Be sure to check back this week for information on a special tailgate hosted by The Southwest Times, as well as other Homecoming event information for the week.