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Patriots will be toughest test yet for Cougars

David Gravely/SWT – Nothing matters as much as the “big uglies” up front. The success or failure of the Cougar football team lies in their hands.

 

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

With a record of four wins and no losses, the Cougar football team has yet to be truly challenged this season. That is all about to change as the final two games of the season will without question be the toughest yet.

 

Pulaski County has outscored their opponents 174-14 with an offense that Head Coach Mark Dixon considers “a work in progress.” The Cougar defense has held their opponents to just 31 first downs, 227 yards of rushing, 186 yards passing and 413 yards of total offense with a defensive unit that, while impressive and eager, Dixon is still not satisfied with.

 

“We’ve become a better team, but we still have a long way to go,” Dixon said Tuesday. “We can’t settle for good. We need to execute better and we need to be more consistent. There is no magic formula or trick to it. We’re talking about football. Run, block and tackle … that’s really what it all comes down to. If each player does their job correctly, we put ourselves in a position to be successful.”

 

While Dixon is pleased with the effort of his program to this point, he remains honest, brutally honest at times, with his players and coaches.

 

“We’ve beaten the teams we were supposed to beat,” he said. “That’s good, but we’re about to find out what we’re really made of. These next two games will show us exactly what our weaknesses are.”

 

First up for the Cougars are the Patrick Henry Patriots. The Cougars lead the series with the Patriots 28-18, including the past two meetings. Last season Pulaski County traveled to Roanoke and brought home a 27-10 victory.

 

Patrick Henry is led by Head Coach Alan Fiddler, who is in his ninth season with the Patriots. He has an overall record of 61-38 during that time.

 

While Patrick Henry is always dangerous due to a high number of athletes who can break a big play at any given moment, the Patriots have struggled at times in the past nine years. They finished 7-3 in Fiddler’s first season, but didn’t make the playoffs. They finished 8-3 in 2012 and 2013, losing in the first round. The 2014 and 15 seasons were especially tough, with records of 6-5 and 5-6. They lost in the first round of the playoffs each of those years as well. The 2016 season ended 8-3 with another first round loss. The 2017 and 18 seasons were both 6-5 efforts with first round losses. In the 2019 season the finished the regular season 6-4. They won their first playoff game but fell in round two, ending up at 7-5.

 

This season has been good so far for Patrick Henry. They hold a record of 4-1 with wins over Hidden Valley (14-6), Blacksburg (56-0), Cave Spring (32-18) and Christiansburg (41-21). Their lone loss of the season to this point came at the hands of the Salem Spartans (17-35).

 

In their game last week against Christiansburg, freshman running back Arjuan Webb ran for 189 yards and three touchdowns. VMI bound quarterback Roy Gunn completed seven of 12 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 16 more yards and another score. Receiver Tashawn Webb is a big play maker for the Patriot offense as well. Against Christiansburg he caught three passes for 110 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and an eight-yard scoring catch in the third.

 

“They are a dangerous group with tremendous athleticism, especially outside,” Dixon said. “They have football speed. You can tell they are just really good football players. They have an outstanding quarterback. He’s one of the few high school quarterbacks I’ve seen that can actually go through his progressions and make a good decision. Their backs and receivers are fast and very athletic. They can big play a team to death. Offensively they can run and pass effectively. They present challenges everywhere on the field. Their success will depend on how well our defensive guys read their keys and get to the ball. We cannot afford to make sloppy tackles or get caught reaching. They’re too fast to give them any room to move. Defensively they get to the ball well and can make big plays. This is going to take our best effort yet.”

 

The Patriots are not, however, invincible. Against Salem they were held to just 72 yards rushing but completed 23 of 40 pass attempts for 258 yards. Three Salem interceptions of Gunn hurt their efforts. The Spartans racked up 187 rushing yards and 135 passing in that game, but were only able to complete four of 14 pass attempts against the Patriot defensive unit.

 

The Cougars come into the game healthy and with a little rest under their belts. Daily competition remains the top priority, meaning the lineup will continue to be fluid at times. While the Cougar opponents to this point have had less than satisfying seasons, with a combined record of just 3-14, the Cougars have been able to use those games to implement the system Coach Dixon wants to run. How well they’ve put that system in will be tested to the max over the remainder of the season.

 

“Intensity and the fear of failure are key,” Dixon said. “I’ve never watched a film before a game and thought a team couldn’t beat us. I think we’ve definitely improved to this point, but we still have a lot of work to do. I can’t say it enough that our success or failure hinges on the performance of our offensive line. Those guys are our superstars. They have to be. We need that to be the case at every level from rec league all the way to here. There are a lot of young men out there that have the ability to be really good linemen, they just don’t know it yet. We need to get them in the weight room and show them just how good they can be and how good they can help make our program.”

 

Game Day Notes

Game time Friday at Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium/Joel Hicks Field is set for 7 p.m. Friday. The game will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend, details of that livestream will be released later this week. Fans can also listen to the action on 107.1FM WPSK as Rick Watson and Shay Dunnigan bring the play by play live.

 

VHSL Ratings

Salem (4-0) remains the top team in Region 4D with the Cougars (4-0) still in second place. If the Cougars and Spartans each win this week, the winner of the final game of the regular season between the Cougars and Spartans will earn the top spot in the region playoffs. GW Danville has moved into third place with their 2-1 record. Amherst County (2-2) took hold of fourth place with their win over Jefferson Forest last week.

 

Jefferson Forest (1-1), EC Glass (1-1), Blacksburg (0-5) and Halifax County (0-3) round out the region. Only the top four teams in the region will advance to the playoffs this season.

 

While the region playoffs will feature mostly known teams, whoever reaches the state semifinals from Region 4D will face off against the winner of Region 4C. Currently, Region 4C is led by Tuscarora High School (4-0) with a rating of 26.00. Kettle Run (4-0) is in second at 24.50. Broad Run (3-1) is third at 21.50 and Handley High School (2-1) is currently fourth at 20.66. Park View-Sterling (2-2) is just outside the bubble at 20.25. Loudoun County (2-2, 18.25) and Fauquier (2-2, 18.00) are also still within striking distance for a spot.

 

When the state semifinals begin, the Region A champion will host the Region B champion. The winner of that game and the Region 4 C/D game will meet in the state championship game with the winner of the Region A/B semifinal game hosting the winner of the Region C/D semifinal game.

 

Other local teams

Galax (4-0) is currently leading Region 1C with a 21.00 rating. Narrows (3-0) is second at 19.33. Grayson County (2-2) is third at 14.25 and George Wythe (2-1) is fourth at 14.00. Eastern Montgomery (3-2) is fifth at 12.40.

 

Rural Retreat (3-1) and Patrick Henry-Glade Springs (3-1) lead Region 1D with identical 16.75 ratings.

 

Region 2C has Appomattox (4-0) in the lead at 20.50, but Dan River (2-0) is listed at second at  20.00. Glenvar (2-2) is third at 17.50. Fort Chiswell (3-1) is fourth at 17.25. Radford (3-1) is sitting at fifth with a 17.00 rating.

 

In Region 3D Lord Botetourt (4-0) leads the way at 24.50. Abingdon (4-0) sits in second at 23.00. Carroll County (4-1) sits in third at 20.80. William Byrd (2-2) is fourth at 19.00. Northside (0-2, 18.00) and Magna Vista (3-1, 18.00) are sitting just outside the bubble. Bassett (1-1, 17.00), Cave Spring (1-3, 16.50), Christiansburg (1-3, 16.50) and Hidden Valley (1-3, 15.25) are likely out of contention barring some strange occurrence.

 

Patrick Henry (4-1, 23.60 currently sits at the top of Region 5D with William Fleming (2-2, 20.50) currently sitting in fifth.

 

Region 6A Franklin County (4-0, 27.00) is currently third in that region behind Oscar Smith (3-0, 29.33) and Thomas Dale (3-0, 28.66).

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