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Cougars drop heartbreaker to Spartans

By DAVID GRAVELY

sports@southwesttimes.com

 

The Pulaski County Cougars put up a valiant effort Friday night at Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium but came up just one play short in a 12-6 loss to the Salem Spartans.

 

With the loss the Cougars fall to 8-2 on the season and will very likely move to the third seed in Region 4D. While the numbers are not official, that will likely mean a rematch against the Blacksburg Bruins next week at Pulaski County. Some numbers could still change things, but that seems to be the most likely scenario.

 

“We needed a few more plays and we didn’t make them,” Cougar Head Coach Stephen James said. “I’m proud of the fight our guys put up. We knew coming in we needed a few breaks. We got them but we didn’t take advantage. It was a tough game and both teams played hard, but Salem got the win. We don’t like it, but we can’t change that now. The only thing we can do now is come back to work Monday and get ready for whoever we open the playoffs with.”

 

The two teams swapped possessions without much luck offensively until a roughing the kicker penalty against the Cougars gave Salem the ball at the Cougar 10-yard line. The Cougar defense held and forced a field goal attempt, but the Spartans faked it and threw a pass into the end zone. Chris Shay intercepted the pass to give Pulaski County the ball at the 20-yard line.

 

Salem got a break on the next play when an AJ McCloud pass was intercepted by Shawn Collins for the Spartans. The Cougar defense held again, forcing a turnover on downs. The two teams again continued to swap possessions until a Cougar punt was muffed by the Spartan return man and Lane Suthers recovered for the Cougars.

 

Starting at the Salem 29-yard line, the Cougars pushed just enough forward to give Broc Simpson a 26-yard field goal attempt. He made good on the kick to give Pulaski County the 3-0 lead with 4:41 remaining in the first half.

 

The Cougar defense held Salem to four and out, but the punt attempt as botched and the Spartans turned the ball over at their own 20-yard line. With six seconds remaining in the half Simpson hit a 38-yard field goal to put the Cougars up 6-0 heading into the break.

 

It looked like more of the same to start the second half, with both teams struggling offensively. Another Cougar punt was bobbled by the Spartan return man and recovered by Ethan Gallimore at the Spartan 45-yard line. The drive fizzled and Pulaski County punted.

 

Suddenly Salem found a hole in the Cougar defense. Rushes by Cameron Leftwich and Zavione Wood moved the Spartans down the field. A roughing the passer penalty helped the Salem effort along. With 2:06 remaining in the third, Wood crossed the goal line from nine yards out to tie the game at 6-6. The point-after attempt was no good, leaving the score tied.

The Cougars were forced to punt on their next drive and Salem took over at the 49-yard line. A big first down run was followed by a 33-yarder by Wood that went the distance with 11:50 remaining in the game. The PAT was no good, leaving the Spartans up 12-6.

 

The Cougars didn’t give up. The defense did everything they could to keep the team in the game, stopping Salem time and time again. With time running out and no time outs remaining, Pulaski County fielded a punt and took over at the 46-yard line.

With Just over two minutes remaining in the game, the Cougars were forced to pass. McCloud completed two passes to Keyontae Kennedy for 13 yards and 8 yards, then another to Suthers for seven more. Kennedy ran for five yards to move the ball closer and then caught another pass for three yards. On second down Kennedy ran for one yard, moving the ball to the Spartan six-yard line.

 

On third down, McCloud scrambled right and sent the ball into the end zone. Jordan McDonald intercepted the pass for the Spartans, who took a knee to end the game.

 

The Cougars finished the night with four first downs while the Spartans earned nine. Pulaski County rushed the ball 29 times for 66 yards and completed nine of 17 pass attempts for 54 yards with two interceptions for 120 yards of offense. The Spartans ran 39 times for 157 yards and completed four of 14 passes for 66 yards with one interception for 223 yards.

 

Chris Shay was the leading rusher for the Cougars with 9 carries for 33 yards. Kennedy ran 11 times for 23 yards. McCloud ran six times for seven yards. Gage Mannon ran once for two yards. John Lyman ran twice for one yard.

 

Wood ran 15 times for Salem for 86 yards. Leftwich gained 43 yards on 12 attempts. Isaiah Persinger ran 11 times for 31 yards and Chauncy Logan ran once for a three-yard loss.

 

Kennedy had three catches for 25 yards. Logan Burchett had one catch for nine yards. Lyman had two catches for four yards. Suthers had one catch for one yard.

 

Chase Ferris caught three Salem passes for 62 yards. Logan caught one pass for four yards.

 

“Obviously it wasn’t the outcome we wanted,” Coach James said. “We made some mistakes and missed out on some opportunities. You can’t do either of those things against a good team. All we can do now is see how the power points all line up and see who we play next week. The good news is we are playing next week and we’re playing at home. We’ll break this film down and get back to work Monday. We start a new season Monday. Everybody is undefeated and you play until you lose. I think our guys will respond and come out ready to work Monday.”

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