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Now or never: Cougars open playoffs on the road

 

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

It could have been easier. It could have been a home game. It could have been …. well, it could have been a lot of things, but as it stands now the Pulaski County Cougar football team will travel to Danville Thursday to take on the GW Danville Eagles in the opening round of the Class 4 Region D playoffs.

 

The Cougars started the season off well, winning big games with big scores. That led to a lot of people thumping their chests and proclaiming the Cougars “world beaters” on a grand scale. Video blogs and hyped up reports from some outlets led fans to believe that there was simply no stopping the Cougars this season. Catchy nicknames were handed out like candy on Halloween by bandwagon outlets, spreading the hype even further.

 

Back in reality, Cougar Head Coach Mark Dixon knew better. He knew his team wasn’t where it needed to be and he told them so. He showed them their mistakes after each game and showed them how they could be better. It’s hard to hear above the rattle of the bandwagon rider’s drums sometimes, but all you have to do is listen and look closer to hear and see it.

 

Pulaski County was not tested in the early part of the season. The first four opponents this season were rough, as in they did not have very good seasons. Cave Spring finished 2-4. Hidden Valley finished 1-5, their only win coming against Blacksburg, who finished 0-6. Christiansburg finished the regular season 3-3 and made the playoffs. They beat Cave Spring, Hidden Valley and Blacksburg.

 

The teams with winning records caused problems for the Cougars. Patrick Henry finished the regular season 5-1. Their lone loss came against Salem, who finished 6-0. Pulaski County lost to both teams.

 

GW Danville comes into the game with a record of 5-1. They opened the season with a humbling 70-6 loss to the undefeated Lord Botetourt Cavaliers. After that, the level of competition dropped off dramatically.

 

They beat Patrick County (0-5) 41-0. They beat Halifax County (0-4) twice by large margins. The first time was 54-6, the second was 46-0. They beat Magna Vista (3-3) 55-13 and then Bassett (3-2) 48-17. The overall record of GW Danville opponents is 12-18. Take away the Lord Botetourt loss and it gets worse, with their other five opponents having a combined record of 6-18. The Eagles have outscored their opponents 250-106 this season. Without the Botetourt game that moves to 244-36.

 

The Cougars lead the series between the two teams 8-7, including the last two meetings. The last meeting between the two teams was in the opening round of the playoffs in 2018. The Cougars won that game on the road 17-14.

 

While the Cougars lead the series, Danville has outscored Pulaski County 253-297 overall. The biggest win for the Cougars was a 31-0 win in 1986. The worst loss for a Cougar team against the Eagles was a 13-56 loss in 1990. Three games out of the 15 total have been decided by a touchdown or less. Another four games have been decided by 14 points or less.

 

The Eagles are coached by Head Coach Nick Anderson, who is in his eighth season with the Eagles and has an overall record of 72-19 during his time there. He has taken the Eagles to the playoffs each year, but only advanced past the second round once, in 2014. They lost that third round game to Salem.

 

For the Cougars to win, it will take focus and effort. The offensive line, as always, will be key. If the line blocks and gives the running backs room to move, the Cougars will be able to control the chains and clock, keeping the Eagle offense off the field.

 

Defensively, the Cougars will be tasked with stopping a very fast and athletic offense with multiple weapons. Last week, junior Jakobe Dixon scored three touchdowns in the first half. The came on runs of 32 and 20 yards, plus one on a pick-six just before the half ended. Senior Willie Edmunds is also a force. He ran 20 times for 159 yards last week and caught two passes for 25 yards. Junior quarterback Jeb Byrnes takes the snaps for GW Danville. The Eagles are also fast, athletic and physical on the defensive side of the ball.

 

After watching film, the Eagles fall somewhere between Patrick Henry and Salem overall as a team. Much like the Cougars, with the exception of their first game the Eagles haven’t been tested much through the remainder of their schedule. One very impressive fact about the Eagles is that they won their last three games in the span of eight days. When you push your players with that type of task and they respond, it shows grit and heart no matter who they’re playing.

 

As is usually the case, the winner of this game will be decided in a few spots. First, the offensive line must provide the running backs with room to move. Second, those running backs must establish a ground game to move the chains and keep the Eagle offense off the field.  Third, the Cougar defense must find a way to contain the explosive speed of the Eagle offense. Arm tackling will result in failure.

 

Kickoff Thursday is set for 6 p.m. Those who want to listen to the game can catch it on 107.1FM WPSK where Rick Watson and Shay Dunnigan will bring the action. The GW Danville Football Facebook page will also be livestreaming the game. That link can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/gwfootball.

 

In other games this week, The Class 1 playoffs will see #1 Galax hosting #4 George Wythe and #2 Narrows hosting #3 Parry McCluer.  The Class 2 playoffs will feature #1 Appomattox hosting #4 Radford. In Class 3, #1 Lord Botetourt will host #4 Christiansburg and #2 Abingdon will host #3 Carroll County. In Class 4, #1 Salem will host #4 Amherst County to decide who plays the winner of the Cougar vs Eagle matchup.

 

In Class 5 action, #1 Patrick Henry will host #4 Mountain View and #2 William Fleming will host #3 Harrisonburg. Finally, in Class 6 the #3 Franklin County Eagles will travel to face #2 Thomas Dale.

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