By DAVID GRAVELY
SWT Sports Editor
The Cougar football team will get on the bus this Friday for the first time since week two, kicking off a three game road series that starts in Blacksburg against Dave Crist and the Bruins.
The Cougars have done well against the Bruins over the years, and lead the series eight games to five, including the past three meetings. The last time a Bruins team earned a win against Pulaski County was in 2009, when The Cougars fell by a final score of 34-3 and finished a dismal 2-8 for the season.
The past three seasons have been especially tough ones for Blacksburg, falling 28-7 in 2012, 28-0 in 2011, and 34-0 in 2010.
Last year, the Bruins missed out on the playoffs for the fourth straight season after finishing 2-8, 0-5 in the River Ridge District. Early season injuries and young players in key positions cost the Bruins dearly.
Blacksburg Head Coach Dave Crist, now in his 39th season, holds an overall record of 229-185-4 in the blue, white, and gold. His team comes into Friday nights contest with a 3-1 record. The season started with a road loss to Giles in a 37-38 overtime thriller. A home game against the Carroll County Cavaliers, 17-13, earned their lone win. Blacksburg took the measure of an injury riddled Radford Bobcat team two weeks ago, winning 37-0. Last week they traveled to Floyd County, defeating the Buffalos 44-19.
“They’ve got a good defense,” said Cougar Head Coach Todd Jones. “They move well, and they fly to the football. On offense, they obviously know how to get the ball into the end zone. We’re going to have to play better this week. We’re going to have to get more physical.”
Expect to see Blacksburg use multiple sets on offense, including the I-formation with one back, two backs, double tight ends, and with the quarterback at times under center and at other times in the shotgun.
The Bruins offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Isaac Johnston (6’2″, 198). He recently replaced senior Kaleb Bohrnstedt, who was the starting quarterback last season and at the start of this season, after Bohrnstedt left the team. Running backs to watch will be juniors Korbin Hendricks (5’11”, 197) and Grayson Shelton (5’10”, 155). The wide receivers will be Ethan Goforth (5’8″, 160, jr), Morgan McCoy (5’7″, 145, soph), Josh Williams (5’9″, 130, jr), and Jake Verniel (5’8″, 160, soph).
The big uglies up front aren’t overly large, but they are an efficient group of blockers. The center is senior Brett Palmer (5’11”, 228). The guards will be Marquis Jones (5’9″, 223, soph) and Wayne Myers (5’10”, 215, sr). The tackles will be Thomas Saladiner (5’10”, 183, jr) and Adam Peton (6’5″, 285, sr). The tight end will be Jack Hale (6’1″, 175, sr).
Defensively, the Bruins will normally run a 4-4 set.
“They’ve got a really good front group,” said Coach Jones. “Some of their skill players are young, but they read the ball well and play hard. They’re athletic, and can get to where the ball is quickly.”
Up front expect to see Palmer, Myers, and Peton, along with Tyler Florda (6’1″, 188, sr). The middle linebackers will be Zach Treser (6’3″, 182, jr) and Jacob Keith (5’10”, 170, soph). The outside linebackers will be Hendricks and McCoy. The secondary will feature Goforth, Verneil, and Shelton.
One area the Bruins have done well in this season has been the kicking game. Senior Carson Wise (5’10”, 154), a four year starter, has been consistent this season. His biggest moment to date was hitting a 55-yard field goal against Radford, tying the record set in 1991 by Jason O’Dell of Martinsville and then again in 1995 by Shayne Graham of Pulaski County. At this time, he is 25 of 31 in field goals, 13 field goals away from the VHSL record of 38 currently held by Pulaski County’s Graham.
“We’ve had another good week of practice,” said Jones. “Winning our Homecoming game was nice, but that’s over now. We spent Monday doing some teaching and correcting the mistakes we saw on film. Tuesday we found out who still wants to hit. I don’t care what our record is right now, the only thing that matters is going to Blacksburg and playing a physical game and doing everything we can to win.”
The first set of VHSL power rankings came out this week, and for the 4A North the Cougars are currently sitting in the number 11 spot with a 19.80 rating. Six teams are tied for the number six spot, however, with Salem, King George, and Courtland all holding 22.60 ratings. The top spot is held by Eastern View with a 25.80 rating, followed by G.W. Danville (25.00), Sherando (24.40), Handley (23.20), and Loudoun County (23.00).
“We’re going to do what we can to win every game we play, and if we do that then the rankings will take care of themselves,” said Jones.
The Cougars will go with much the same lineup as last week when they take the field.
The defense will have Bradley Church, Rob Quesenberry, and Kareem Calfee up front, with Elliot Brewster and Heath White lined up at the ends. J.D. Sutphin will be the middle linebacker, with Noah Patterson and Chase Huff outside. The corners will be secured by Malik Eaves and Marcus Payne, with Jake Tabor in the back at the safety spot.
The offense will have Tanner Dotson at center, Rhen Jones and Bret Smith at the tackles, and James Reynolds and Calfee at the guards. The tight end will be Jake Callahan. Quincy Rollins will be the running back, with Brandon Jones and Dillon Alley at the wings. Tyler Ervine will be the split back.
The only question for Pulaski this week will be at the quarterback spot. Senior Marcus Johnston injured his ankle early in last weeks game against the Cavaliers, and junior Jesse Draper came in to get the job done. While Johnston has responded well to treatment this week and may be available to play, it will most likely be a game time decision. In the event he can’t go, Draper has been prepped this week to take the reins.
“This is not about one player or another, we’re all about the team,” said Jones. “We’re going to go out there and play our best, as a team, and all that matters is getting the win. These guys understand that and accept it. This is a very unselfish team, and they play their roles to help out the team. We hope that the Cougar Crazies and the fans all follow us to Blacksburg Friday night like they have in the past. Usually our away games are almost like home games because of the fan support. We need that. We need the fans, the band, the cheerleaders, and all of the students to get out and pack the house.”
Game time is set for 7 p.m. at Bill Brown Stadium on Prices Fork Road.
Reports are now in that Jesse Draper will be starting at quarterback for Pulaski tonight, giving Marcus Johnston another week to recover from his ankle injury sustained during the Carroll County game.