By DAVID GRAVELY
SWT Sports Editor
Pulaski County is in a tough spot.
With the new classification setup in place this season, the playoffs will be different than in the past. For the teams in the 4A ranks, the playoff setup is pretty simple. To make the playoffs you need to be one of the top 16 ranked teams in your respective group, either 4A North or 4A South.
Pulaski County falls in with the Group 4A North.
On the day that the playoffs start, the number one ranked team in Group 4A North will host the sixteenth ranked team in Group 4A North. The second ranked team will host the fifteenth ranked team, and the third ranked team will host the fourteenth ranked team. In other words if you want to host a playoff game, you need to finish in the top eight for your group.
The Cougars currently hold a 4-3 record, and more importantly hold the number ten spot in the VHSL rankings for Group 4A North with a 21.42857 rating. Woodgrove High School is just above them in the nine spot with a 21.833333 rating, and John Handley High School is in the number eight spot with a 22.33333 rating. In case you didn’t do the math, that is a .90476 difference with just three games remaining in the Cougar regular season.
If the playoffs started today, Pulaski County would have to travel to Dominion High School in Sterling for round one. That is 272 miles from Dublin, which equates to a four hour, sixteen minute ride if you take a bus that can keep up with the speed limit. That’s the distance and time one way, not round trip.
It would be a very good thing for Pulaski County to win their last three regular season games.
The Cougars can’t focus on the playoffs just yet though, and this week they will need to put all of their focus on the Cave Spring Knights.
The Knights hold a 3-4 record coming into Friday night. They started the season off with a 21-28 loss to William Byrd on the road. Things didn’t get any easier in their home opener, as they fell to Northside 0-44. The Knights got a mark in the win column in week three, taking down Martinsville 24-9. They made it two in a row the following week with a 30-28 win over Alleghany, but then lost to Salem 6-42 the next week. Two weeks ago the Knights ran into a buzz saw in blue and gold, dropping one to Christiansburg 7-49. Last week the Knights went on the road and got the best of Carroll County, winning 49-20.
The Cougars hold a 25-12 advantage in the overall series between the two programs, but the Knights have won the past four meetings. In 2009 the Knights won a 42-34 shoot-out. Things stayed high scoring in 2010 with a 41-19 Knights win. The last two match ups were closer, with a 22-20 Knights win in 2011 and a 17-14 Knights win in 2012.
“They are a very balanced team,” said Cougar Head Coach Todd Jones. “Their skill guys are very good. Their quarterback is a true dual-threat. If the pass is open he can hit it, and if not he can turn it up and run. The defense will have to contain him. They line up in a spread formation on offense, but they run the ball very well out of it. They’ll line up sometimes with two tight-ends. We expect to see them use a lot of motion to try to keep us off-balance. They like to try to get outside of your ends, so we’re going to have to play tough and contain.”
The Knights quarterback is junior Alex Emery (6’1″, 151). Two young but very solid running backs line up behind him, junior Jon Roach (5’11”, 185) and sophomore Tyler Rice 5’10”, 160). Senior Kyle Curtis (6′, 200) will line up as either a tight-end or halfback at times. Junior Zac Foutz (6’4″, 223) is the go-to guy in the receiver corps, but senior Austin Amos (6′, 205) and junior Ty Albritton (6′, 170) are also solid targets. The line will be a mix of players, as the Knights have moved players around quite a bit over the past few games. Seniors Jonathan Ribble (5’8″, 167), Hunter Barker (6’1″, 206), and Nick Smith (6’3″, 195) will be joined by juniors Austin Steinhafel (6’5″, 200), Tyler Hazelwood (5’7″, 188), and Isaiah Baylor (5’11”, 312), and freshman Corbin Fentress (5’10”, 210) across the front line.
“We expect to see the defense line up in a 52,” said Coach Jones. “One thing we’ve seen is that their skill kids, even though they are pretty good, go both ways. Foutz is a solid football player, he just gets to the ball or around it on most plays. They have a bunch of kids who are just good athletes, and they can make plays at any time.”
The defense will have Barker, Curtis, and junior Evan Heath (5’8″, 188) on the defensive front, with Roach and senior Jacob Cash (5’6″, 169) at the ends. Amos and junior Kodi McIlwraith (5’6″, 145) will be the main linebackers. Foutz will line up as the strong safety, with Albritton, Rice, and senior Sebastian Wellford (5’8″, 156) all seeing time in the secondary as well.
For the Cougars expect to see much of the same defense that was lined up last week. Bradley Church, Rob Quesenberry, and Kareem Calfee will line up across the front, with Chase Huff and Elliot Brewster at the ends. J.D. Sutphin will be the middle linebacker, with Noah Patterson and Heath White lined up as the outside linebackers. The corners will be Jesse Draper and Marcus Payne, with Malik Eaves at the safety.
On offense, expect to see Tanner Dotson at the center. James Reynolds and Rhen Jones will line up to his left, and Bret Smith and Daniel Puckett will line up to his right. Jake Callahan will stay at the tight-end position, with Brandon Jones and Dillon Alley at the wing-backs. Senior Tyler Ervine is out with a high ankle sprain, so expect to see junior Austin Harless lined up at the split-end. Quincy Rollins will be the running back, with Marcus Johnston expected to make the start at quarterback.
“We had a few kids get banged up over the past few weeks,” said Jones. “Tyler Ervine will be out for at least 2-3 weeks. We’re not going to rush anything with him. Johnston felt like he pulled a muscle just a little bit up there, but he’s had a good week of practice. If something happens during the game, we have every confidence that Jesse Draper can come in and get things done for us. Jake Tabor is also out. Football is rough, just like every other sport can be. When you start to get into the later season games, everybody is going to have a few kids banged up. It’s a part of the game. We feel good about our guys though, and they’ve all been on the field plenty before so it won’t be a surprise to anyone. We just need to go out and play football.”
The game will be at Dwight Bogle Stadiumin Roanoke, and will kick off at 7 p.m.