The Upson-Lee Knights (2-0) are already halfway to their victory total from a season ago. Last season in one of the toughest regions in the entire state, the Knights struggled, playing up to four or five freshmen at a time during a season in which they finished with a 4-11 record.
This season those freshmen are sophomores, and after two games the Knights have scored five goals, with four of those goals coming from the sophomore class. Sophomore Dylan Marshall got the Knights started on the right track, connecting on a “hat trick” after scoring all three of the Knights’ goals in their season opening 3-0 victory over Pike County (1-1) last Wednesday. The victory came in the first round of the Lamar County Trojan Cup Invitational. Other teams in the tournament include Lamar County, Fayette County, Northside Warner-Robins, and Morgan County.
“I thought we played a very focused game on Wednesday against Pike,” said Knights head coach Matt Bentley. “We saw a lot of things that we had been working on during practice in the pre-season. The boys came out and scored in the first three minutes of the game. We talked about getting off to a fast start and trying to get a goal in the first five minutes of the game. Everything came together and we set the tone of the game from the start. Pike is a very good team, and we will see them again in two weeks. I expect that game to be very competitive.”
Marshall scored his first goal at the 38:01 mark of the first half, with Daniel Clements aiding with the assist. With 12:21 left before halftime and the Knights holding a 1-0 lead, it was Clements once again who found Marshall for another goal. Marshall took the pass from Clements, dribbled through two Pirate defenders, and scored the goal which gave the Knights a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The Knights defense kept the Pirates at bay (pun intended) during the second half of the game. With 12:32 left in the contest, Marshall connected on the “hat trick,” scoring his third goal of the game, giving the Knights a 3-0 lead. UL held off the Pirates, earning a 3-0 shutout and advancing to the second round of the tournament against Northside Warner-Robins on Saturday.
After defeating the Lamar County Trojans 5-1 in the opening round of the Trojan Cup, the Eagles from Northside Warner-Robins (1-1) earned the right to play the Knights in the second round of the tournament on Saturday.
With blistering winds and frigid temperatures on Saturday afternoon, the Knights were able to keep the Eagles in check. An early goal from sophomore Jake Sayer gave the Knights a 1-0 lead. Sayer raced past an Eagles player and boomed a goal through two defenders and past the NSWR keeper at the 34:52 mark of the first half.
The Knights kept the 1-0 lead during the first half. Upson-Lee and the Eagles both had trouble keeping possession of the ball, as Mother Nature toyed with the teams, making the ball play tricks in the wind. However, with 12:47 left in the game, Upson-Lee’s Chase McGouirk scored his first goal of the season. With the Knights threatening to score deep in Eagles territory, McGouirk scored off of a ricochet from a NSWR defender. The goal gave the Knights a 2-0 lead which they would not relinquish.
“We did not play our best game on against Northside”, said Bentley. “We did not possess the ball like we needed to and did a lot of chasing Northside around. The wind was brutal. It really played tricks on the ball. We didn’t do a good job in the first half of keeping the ball on the ground and out of the wind. The guys came out in the second half and played much better. We made a few adjustments in the midfield and we were able to keep them from any real scoring chances. We were able to get a couple of goals and luckily that was enough to get the victory. We need to play better against Griffin on Wednesday and Fayette County in the Championship Game on Saturday.”
The Knights will take a break from the Trojan Cup and square off with Griffin (0-2) tomorrow night at Matthews Field. It will be the first Region 4 game for both teams. According to Coach Bentley, region games will be more important than ever before.
“Coach Eubanks and myself have been talking to the boys about how important the region games will be this season,” said Bentley. “Our region will not have a region tournament as we have in the past. So every region game counts. We are not playing for seeding in the regular season. We are playing for a chance to go to the State Playoffs. We need to play every game as if it were the Region Championship Game. The guys are hungry for a Region Championship, so I don’t think focus will be an issue against Griffin. I fully expect the guys to come out and be ready to play their best on Wednesday night.”
The top four teams in the Region 4 standings at seasons end will advance to the State Playoffs.
With their victory over NSWR, Upson-Lee will now have the chance to face an old foe. With their 3-2 victory over Morgan County, the Fayette County Tigers (2-0) will face the Knights in the Championship Game on Saturday. The Knights and the Tigers have played in some heated games over the past few years. Last season Fayette beat the Knights by a 3-2 score, and in 2011 the Knights lost a very controversial game by a 2-1 score. The Championship Game is slated for 4 p.m. on Saturday at Lamar County’s Trojan Field in Barnesville.