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Cougars hope to break Salem streak

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

It was the 2010 season and the Cougar football program was hurting.

 

New Head Coach Todd Jones had returned to take the reins of the program, but the VHSL had the Cougars under a microscope due to what they deemed unacceptable out of season practice activity. The number of early season practices had been cut as a penalty. Only one preseason scrimmage was allowed. The Cougars were not allowed to make the playoffs.

 

With a record of 4-5, the Cougars were hosting the Salem Spartans in the final game of the season. There wouldn’t be a playoff run. All that was left to play for was pride.

 

Sometimes, PRIDE is enough.

 

Trailing 7-0 at the half, Pulaski County went back to work. Cody Long scored on a four-yard run to tie the game. Salem scored again. The Cougars started to drive down the field, but two big penalties erased a first down and then a touchdown by Rick Cobbs.

 

The Cougars trailed 13-7 with 9:36 remaining in the game. A pass from quarterback Chad Perry to Chase Cook tied the game at 13-13. The PAT was wide, leaving the end in doubt.

 

Salem started to push again. Safety Joey Trigg intercepted a Salem pass and returned it to the 49-yard line. Pulaski County pushed. With 2:39 remaining in the season, Perry bulled his way into the endzone from six yards out. Cody Long scored the two-point conversion, putting the Cougars up 21-13. The Cougar defense held. Cougars win.

 

That was the last time that Pulaski County defeated Salem at the varsity level. Ten years, five months and zero days later, the Cougars are hoping to put an end to that streak by the Spartans.

 

On paper, Salem is better. They have skill, ability, size and speed at almost every position. They are well coached and very familiar with both their offensive and defensive schemes, having ran them since the earlier parts of their recreation league days.

 

In the standings, Salem is better. They are 5-0 this season with a VHSL rating of 26.00. Pulaski County is 4-1 with a 22.60 rating. Salem beat the only team to defeat the Cougars this season, Patrick Henry, 34-17.

 

The Spartans have outscored their opponents 224 to 27 this season. They have scored with their offense, defense and special teams.

 

If Salem wins, they will still be the top ranked team in the region. If they lose, they will still be the top ranked team in the region. For the Cougars, a win will lock up the second seed in the region playoffs. A loss could mean being either second or third. A third seed would mean the Cougars travel in the opening round of the playoffs, most likely to GW Danville.

 

Salem leads the series 28-19, including the last 11 meetings. Two of those Cougar losses came in the playoffs.

 

The Cougars and Spartans have a long history. Each team has earned close wins and blowout victories. There have been times when Salem won a state title that their record has a loss to Pulaski County on it. The same can be said for the 1992 state championship team for Pulaski County, who lost to Salem 22-29 that same year.

 

Joel Hicks holds the most wins against the Spartans with 14 wins out of 23 games. Jack Turner beat Salem twice out of 10 tries, both wins coming in the 2008 season. Todd Jones beat Salem once in six tries. Stephen James was unable to win in six tries.

 

Last season the Cougars had a very good chance to earn a win. An interception in the endzone with around 30 seconds remaining in the game left Pulaski County with another loss, this time 6-12.

 

It seems as if there have been times when Pulaski County players have taken the field against Salem with doubt in their eyes. That needs to end. It needs to end immediately.

 

No matter what happens Friday night in Salem, both teams will move on to the playoffs. In the history of the series, neither team has won a second matchup in the same season after losing the first one. Pulaski won both matchups in 2001 and 2008. Salem won both matchups in 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2012.

 

The Cougars need a signature win to jumpstart the Mark Dixon era. The loss to Patrick Henry last week was regrettable, especially after seeing the film and realizing how much Pulaski County left on the table.

 

It’s time for Pulaski County to make a stand.

 

Don’t blame the weather. Don’t blame recruiting. Don’t blame the refs. Don’t blame anyone. Go out and do the work.

 

Game time Friday is set for 7 p.m. Tune in to 107.1 FM WPSK to hear Rick Watson and Shay Dunnigan bring all the action to the airwaves. Fans can also watch live. Go to the high school Facebook page for the link.

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