By DAVID GRAVELY
SWT Sports Editor
Pulaski County will come into Friday night’s home contest against the Hidden Valley Titans with a two game losing streak and a search for a combination of healthy players that will spark their offense.
They’ll take on the challenge with at least three key starters out due to injuries and possibly another.
Senior nose-guard Rob Quesenberry sustained a broken foot in the final plays against Cave Spring last week and will be out for a minimum of four weeks. Senior safety, backup running back, and special teams player Jake Tabor was injured in the Franklin County game and is out for the remainder of the season. In that same game, senior split-end and return man Tyler Ervine sustained a sprained ankle and will be out until at least the Salem game in the final week of the regular season.
The questionable and “banged up” list is just as long. Senior running back Quincy Rollins strained his ankle last week in the first half, and while he is eager to return to action he may or may not be available for this week. You can also add senior quarterback Marcus Johnston to the list. He is scheduled to start again this week, but a lingering leg and ankle injury is somewhat limiting his mobility.
“By the time you get to this point of the season, everybody is going to be bruised up some,” said Cougar Head Coach Todd Jones. “It’s hit us in some important spots, but it’s just something you have to deal with as a part of football. We can’t let it be an excuse. The next guy is going to have to step up and make plays.”
Many may ask how the team has handled knowing that so many of their experienced players are out.
“We’ve had a really good week of practice,” said Coach Jones. “I told them that this is an opportunity for some new faces to show up in the lineup. We made a few changes during the game last week, and those guys went in and played with a lot of heart. With Quesenberry out, we’re going to have to find a new face on the defensive line. I told them early this week that the spot was open to the best man. We’ll see who that turns out to be.”
The Cougars have played the Titans every year since Hidden Valley opened their doors in 2003. The series is evenly split, with each team holding five wins. The Titans have won the last two games, and have won three out of the last four. The past three games have been extremely close match ups, with four points being the largest margin of victory in any of the three.
The Titans are coached by Scott Weaver, who is in his fifth season at Hidden Valley and holds a 20-25 record. Last year the Titans finished 6-5, falling to Christiansburg 31-6 in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, the Titans are what could be considered a work in progress. Their season started off with three straight losses. They fell to Patrick Henry 23-0 on week one, followed by a 27-14 road loss to William Byrd. They played a strong Northside Viking team well, but lost 27-17. The Titans earned their first win of the season on the road against Bassett, 34-13. Christiansburg got the better of them again in late September, winning 27-14. The Titans are coming into Fridays game on a two game winning streak. They defeated Carroll County 56-14 on the road, and then beat Blacksburg 20-3 last week.
Coach Jones has been impressed with what he’s seen from the Titans on film.
“Their quarterback is pretty good,” said Jones. “He’s very mobile. He can run the ball well, but he can get it to his receivers well too. They have a couple of pretty good running backs that run hard. They line up in the I-formation and just come right at you. They want to run the ball.”
The Titans will be led by sophomore quarterback Jake Smiley (6’3″, 182). They have three main running backs, led by senior Walker Brand (5’7″, 185), who is averaging over one hundred yards per game. Massi Flici (6’2″, 220, sr) and Mason Dermott (5’7″, 172, jr) will also see plenty of action. The fullback will be Nate Atkins (6’1″, 222, sr). The flanker will be Billy Howe (5’10″, 175, sr), and the split end will be Dean Sayers (5’10″, 165, sr).
The front line will start with center Jacob Light (5’8″, 190, sr). The tackles will be Sean Gray (6′, 251, sr) and Kole Bridgers (6’3″, 245, freshman). The guards will be Emmit Kasey (5’6″, 225, freshman) and Hunter Boone (6’2″, 215, jr).
On defense, the Titans are expected to show a 4-4 look.
“They get to the ball,” said Jones. “They are very solid and don’t make a lot of mistakes.”
The defense will be led by Flici at middle linebacker. The other linebackers will be Howe and Atkins. The corners will be Dermott and Jeremy Rice (5’10″, 170, jr). The safety will be Logan Brand (5’10″, 170, soph). The defensive linemen will be Taylor Flynt (6’1″, 210, jr) and Chris Daniel (6′, 190, freshman). Tyriq Harris (6’3″, 200, jr) will be the defensive end to watch.
The Cougar offense will change this week. Some of that change is due to injuries, some of it isn’t. That’s the way it should be. Tanner Dotson will remain at center, with Austin Leeper (5’9″, 226, jr) and James Reynolds lined up to his left. To his right will be junior Adam Richardson (5’10″, 187) and Kareem Calfee. Jake Callahan will be the tight-end. The wing-backs will be Brandon Jones and Dillon Alley. Elliot Brewster will get his first taste of starting offense since moving up from the junior varsity squad, as he takes over the split-end spot. Marcus Johnston will start at quarterback, and if Rollins is unable to play then Cody Semones will get the nod at running back.
On defense the Cougars will have a slightly different lineup as well. Bradley Church and Calfee will be on the line, but the third defensive lineman has yet to be decided. Several players will be fighting for the spot, but the decision has not been finalized as of press time. Elliot Brewster and Chase Huff will be at the ends, Noah Patterson and Heath White will be the outside linebackers, and J.D. Sutphin will be the middle linebacker. The corners will be Marcus Payne and Jesse Draper, and Malik Eaves will be the safety.
So what does Coach Jones hope for going into the final regular season home game for the Cougars?
“I hope these guys realize this could be the last time they ever walk down those steps as a Cougar. Unless a lot of things good things go our way, just winning might not be enough to earn a home field playoff game. I hope they realize that, and I hope they leave it all out on the field. We need one hundred percent from each and every one of them. We’ve tried not to talk about the playoffs yet, but I’m pretty sure everybody understands what’s at stake. We need to win, and we need to win now. We’ve taken it one game at a time all season, but now we’re going to have to do even more. We need to win every play. We need to win every snap and every yard. We’ve had too many missed opportunities over the past two weeks, and we’ve made too many mistakes. It’s time to show up.”
The current VHSL rankings have Sherando at the top spot of the Class 4A North rankings. Salem is in second, Eastern View is in third, King George is in fourth, and Courtland is fifth. G.W. Danville is in the six spot, even though they have the same rating, due to having more points scored against them. Loudoun County is in the seventh spot, followed by John Handley in eighth, Dominion in ninth, and Woodgrove in tenth. Pulaski County sits squarely in the number eleven spot, with Jefferson Forest in twelfth. E.C. Glass is in the thirteen spot, followed by Liberty (Bealton) in fourteenth, Charlottesville in fifteenth, and Fauquier in sixteenth. If the playoffs started today, the Cougars would travel to play G.W. Danville.
Game time is set for 7 p.m., with the seniors being honored at some point before the kickoff.