James Wood football defeats Pulaski on late touchdown

The James Wood football team’s resolve showed up in a big way again on Friday.

Jared Neal’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Ryan King with 1:30 left provided the final points in a hard-fought 34-33 victory over Pulaski County on Friday night at the Cougars’ Dobson Stadium.

James Wood trailed 20-7 with 3:00 left in the second quarter and didn’t take its first lead until early in the fourth quarter.

The Colonels (2-0) were led by Jaden Ashby (six catches for 83 yards, two touchdowns, 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown), Neal (13 of 26 for 231 yards, three touchdowns and one interception), King (six catches, 83 yards, one TD; two interceptions, including the game-clinching interception) and Wes Brondos (18 carries for 178 yards and one TD).

The game with Pulaski County (2-1) wasn’t scheduled until Wednesday as a result of Skyline, James Wood’s original Friday opponent, having to cancel because of COVID issues.

Two days of preparation, a 220-mile trip and playing from behind for most of the game tested the Colonels, but a program that had the first two of its four games canceled in the spring wasn’t daunted.

“I think this game helps the kids build on that belief and confidence in themselves,” James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said in a phone interview on Saturday afternoon. “We always tell them we have to roll with the punches and deal with adversity.

“We dealt with adversity in the spring, and they were still able to perform well. The last couple days, we dealt with that theme of we dealt with adversity before, and we know that we can handle it well. We were down a few points in the game, but the kids kept believing in themselves and coming back, and playing with aggression, and playing confidently, playing hard, running to the ball. That’s something that’s been built over the last few months. Our kids are really resilient.”

According to The Southwest Times, Pulaski gained 483 yards to James Wood’s 441.

In the first half, Cam Cooper (15 of 26 for 262 yards, two TDs and three interceptions) had a 69-yard touchdown pass to John Lyman (five catches, 104 yards, two TDs) and a one-yard TD run that made it 20-7. In between, Pulaski also received a 21-yard touchdown run by Keyontae Kennedy (35 carries for 182 yards).

A 12-yard TD run by Brondos and the first of four Hunter Barnhart extra points made it 7-7 with 4:51 left in the first quarter, but two turnovers in the second quarter kept James Wood from keeping pace with Pulaski as it built that 20-7 lead.

“We did not think we were playing too well in the first quarter,” Morgan said. “We had some missed opportunities on offense. We were getting the ball into the red zone and not able to punch it in every time.

“They weren’t big gaps we can shoot through on their offensive line with our linebackers and our defensive linemen, so that was a little bit tricky, and they’ve got good running backs that are able to make some cuts and cutbacks that some other teams might not have the talent to do. When they would get to the edge, they were too quick to corral in the open field, so we had to do a good job of gang-tackling and get as many people there as we could.”

Ashby’s 85-yard kickoff return TD made it 20-14 Pulaski with 2:47 left in the second quarter. Morgan said James Wood had been close to executing big gains on previous returns, and he added that before the touchdown the players were encouraging themselves to stay on their blocks. Morgan said Ashby cut left, then he went he got to midfield he cut back to the right and outran everyone from there.

Pulaski went up 27-14 on Cooper’s second one-yard TD run with 4:15 to go in the third quarter, but Neal-to-Ashby TD passes of 44 yards (3:26 left in the third quarter) and 23 yards (10:53 left in the fourth quarter) made it 28-27 Colonels.

“On his last touchdown, [Ashby] caught a bubble to the left,” Morgan said. “He was kind of swarmed by the defense, and he cut all the way back to the right sideline. Our linemen were kind of hanging out because they thought the play was going to the left, and then when he cut back they were in the perfect position to create a wall, almost like a punt return, and he got all the way back to the right side.

“That’s one of those plays where you’re saying, ‘No, no, no, yes, yes, yes.’ Most of the time if you do that, you’re getting tackled in the backfield or leveled by a defensive linemen, but somehow he was able to pull that off.”

Pulaski regained the lead at 33-28 with on a 13-yard TD pass from Cooper to Lyman, with the two-point conversion failing.

With three minutes left, James Wood found itself down at the Cougar 3-yard line for a fourth-and-goal play. Morgan said the Colonels put four receivers on one side against three defenders. An issue with route-running resulted two players in the same space. One of them caught the ball, but he was out of bounds, and the ball was turned over to Pulaskl County.

James Wood quickly got the ball back for the offense, forcing Pulaskl to punt from its own 11 after three plays. The attempt was shanked, and the Colonels got the ball at the Pulaski 28.

On the next play, Ashby took a Wildcat snap and threw the ball into the end zone toward King, and it was intercepted. However, a flag was thrown for a Cougars assistant coach who was on the field to relay signals when the ball was snapped. The personal foul called moved the ball to the Cougar 14.

Morgan said the officials told the coaches before the game that they could go on the field to relay signals as long as they were behind the play. On the play that was penalized, Morgan said the Pulaski assistant was about three yards from the sideline directly in the path of Neal, who had split out to the left. Morgan has a screen photo of Neal addressing the official and pointing to the coach who was directly in front of him just as the ball was about to be snapped.

“I think it was the right call,” Morgan said. “You can’t be lined up almost like a 12th defender out on the field in front of our receiver, who couldn’t run a route.”

On the next play, Neal found King for the winning 14-yard touchdown with 1:39 left. Ashby and King were lined up to the left, with three defenders in coverage. Ashby got double-teamed, and Neal went to King — who was in the slot — on a hitch route five yards downfield.

“Ryan’s a pretty good runner,” Morgan said. “He’s pretty slippery and quick. He was able to evade them. He caught it and kind of turned to the outside and ran up the sideline. He was able to dive and get inside the pylon. It was a really nice play.”

The extra point attempt was missed to leave the score at 34-33 Colonels. The kickoff went out of bounds, and Pulasi took over at its own 35. King intercepted Cooper on the next play to seal the win.

“They’d been running the ball well, so they ran a play-action pass,” Morgan said. “I guess there was a miscommunication. Their receiver ran a 15-yard out route, and I guess the quarterback thought he was going to keep going vertical. Ryan was playing cornerback deep, and the ball got thrown right to him.”

James Wood will play its home opener this Friday at 7 p.m. against non-district foe Brentsville. The Tigers (2-1) will be taking on their fourth Class 4 Northwestern District foe, having beaten Liberty and Fauquier to start and losing to Kettle Run last week.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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