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Cougars vs. Spartans: It’s time for a fight!

By DAVID GRAVELY

sports@southwesttimes.com

 

Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, just became an even bigger night and much more important.

 

The Pulaski County Cougars will host the Salem Spartans Friday in the final game of the regular season. That alone is, or at least should be, enough to get fans excited. The rivalry between Pulaski County and Salem goes back to the start of both schools and goes much further than just football.

 

The game will be huge. Not only because it is the Cougars and Spartans, but also because of the playoff implications. Both teams are currently 8-1. Salem is the top-ranked team in Region 4D with 30.00 points. Pulaski County is the second-ranked team with a 29.22 rating. E.C. Glass, the top team up until their loss to Heritage Friday night, were the top team in the region but are now sitting at third with a 28.22 rating.

 

If Salem wins Friday night, they will remain the top team in the region and have home-field advantage through at least the state semifinals. If Pulaski County wins Friday night, they will possibly take over the top spot. It will all depend on how the rest of the games play out and who gives each team rider points, but for Pulaski County to have a chance at taking over the top spot they must win against the Spartans.

 

The Cougars will be in the playoffs, along with the other seven teams in Region 4D. They will have a first-round home game in the playoffs. Anything other than that will depend on what happens Friday on the field.

 

“I’ve said this before; games like this are the reason I wanted to come to Pulaski County,” Cougar Head Coach Stephen James said. “This is obviously the biggest game of the season for us. Our guys are very aware of that. As long as the weather cooperates, we expect to see a big crowd. We will find out Friday night if we’re good enough. Salem will be ready.”

 

The Cougars and Spartans have met 46 times on the gridiron. Salem has won 27 times; the Cougars have won 19. If you include the two games before Andrew Lewis High School became Salem High School, you would add two more Salem wins. The Wolverines defeated the Cougars 12-14 in 1974 and 0-28 in 1975.

 

Salem High School opened its doors in 1977. They defeated the Cougars 34-6. The first Cougar win over the Spartans came in 1978, with the Cougars earning a 15-6 victory under Head Coach Dave Brown.

 

Then something special happened. Pulaski County hired a new coach. Joel Hicks came into town and set a new standard. He beat Salem seven times in a row between 1979 to 1985. Then came 1986 and a series of horrific calls on the field that to this day haven’t been explained. The Cougars lost that game 13-14. Coach Hicks finished with 15 wins and eight losses to the Spartans.

 

In 2003 Jack Turner took over the program. His teams beat Salem twice in 2008 but fell the other eight times they played.

 

Todd Jones took charge of the program in 2010. Under VHSL sanctions that first year, Jones led the Cougars to a 5-5 record that included a huge win in the final game of the season over Salem, 21-13. The Spartans got the best of Pulaski County, winning the other five matchups during that time.

 

Stephen James came on the scene in 2014. To date, his Cougars have not beaten Salem. Last year was the closest game yet, with Salem winning 21-10.

 

“It’s a rivalry game and the kids know it, but we aren’t really doing anything different in practice this week,” Coach James said. “I think we match up in a way that should make a very interesting game. It’s all going to come down to who can control the line of scrimmage and move the chains. If we can grind it out and play good defense, we’ll have a good shot. The team that turns the ball or makes mistakes will have a tough night. We need to limit their opportunities and take advantage of any we get.”

 

The Spartans, like the Cougars, come into the matchup with a record of 8-1. They started the season off with a 48-20 road win over Amherst County. The won a 27-21 battle against a strong Franklin County in week two, then traveled to Northside to defeat the Vikings 21-14. A road trip to Blacksburg resulted in a 35-21 victory. They hosted Christiansburg to earn a 41-13 win. At Patrick Henry, they won a 51-34 shootout.

 

Tough teams schedule tough competition. Salem did just that, hosting Martinsburg, West Virginia the following week. Martinsburg is, as of last week, on a 52-game winning streak and the owners of four consecutive state championships in the West Virginia AAA level. Salem fell 49-14 in that matchup.

 

The Spartans rolled over Cave Spring 59-3 and then crushed Hidden Valley 56-13 last week.

 

The Spartans are one of only five teams with a winning series record over the Cougars with three or more games played. E.C. Glass holds a 6-9 advantage over the Cougars. Amherst County leads that series 4-6. Lafayette and Woodbridge are each up 2-1 over Pulaski County. Out of the 66 teams that Pulaski County has played since the school opened, the Cougars hold the advantage in 44 of those series, have a tied record in seven and are down in 15.

 

“Salem and Pulaski County have a big history together,” Coach James said. “They’ve put together a great program and have proven themselves. We’re excited about the game Friday and are focused on that. The playoffs will come when they come and we’ll worry about all that next week. We’re hoping to see the fans come out Friday and pull for the kids. They’ve worked hard to get here. We believe in them.”

 

The lineup for the Cougars will be the same as last week. Levi Young will be the center. Tyler Brookman and Markus Wright will be the guards. Cooper Dunnigan and Clay Phillips will line up at tackle. The tight end will be Chase Dotson.

 

The wideouts will be a combination of Logan Burchett, Layne Suthers and John Lyman. Keyontae Kennedy and Chris Shay will be the running backs. Gage Mannon could also see action. AJ McCloud will be the quarterback.

 

The defensive front will feature Zeke Surber, Tristan Bowden, Brookman and Will Bishop, along with others as needed. The linebackers will be Luke Russell and Austin Gallimore. Chayton Rollins and Ethan Gallimore will be the ends.

 

The secondary will have Corvin Carter, Burchett, Suthers, Doston, Lyman, Kennedy, Shay and Mannon scattered about. Broc Simpson will handle the kicking and punting duties.

 

Game time is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium.

 

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