“We haven’t forgot about the game last season,” said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “We refer back to that game to the players all of the time. They have to be tired of hearing about it, and on Friday night they will have a chance to make amends.”
The game in which Coach Watson was referring to was the 40-39 double overtime loss which the Knights suffered in Zebulon last season against the Pike County Pirates. Tonight, Upson-Lee will play Pike County at Matthews Field for the first time in school history. The last time Pike County came to “The Hole,” which is how some of the UL players refer to Matthews Field, was when the Pirates were playing R.E. Lee and Upson County High more than 20 years ago.
Many key players from last season’s game are gone, including Upson-Lee’s Corey Moss and Pike County’s Jess Devoursney. Last year Moss rushed for over 200 yards and four touchdowns, while Devoursney tallied double digits in tackles and made a one handed catch in overtime which kept a Pike County drive alive.
However, this season each team also has some key players returning. The Pirates will return their starting quarterback and running back from last season. Senior quarterback Tyler Greggory rushed for over 700 yards last season and threw for over 800 yards for the Pirates in 2012. Senior running back Artez Oglesbee also returns after rushing for 799 yards in 2012, and accumulated nearly 250 yards of total offense against the Knights in their battle a year ago.
“They have a running back which is a threat every time he touches the ball,” said Watson. “We definitely have to do a good job of keeping him contained. He doesn’t need much room to break loose, and when he does break loose, he is hard to catch. They also have a very good quarterback. He is a terrific high school football player that doesn’t make many mistakes, and he can hurt you through the air or on the ground.”
The Knights return their second leading rusher from a season ago with sophomore Kenderius “K.D.” Pennyman. The 6’1, 205 pound running back ran for 98 yards on 13 carries as a freshman in last year’s game. The Knights may also turn to senior kicker Tyler Stewart, who connected on two field goals in the game last year. Stewart ended up earning All-Region and All-Middle Georgia honors in 2012.
Replacing Corey Moss is a lot of pressure for anyone who will be under center for the Knights in 2013, but it looks as if freshman Kalen Puckett will get the call tonight. The freshman looked poised and did not play like a 14-year-old in the Knights’ scrimmage game two weeks ago against Mundy’ Mill. Puckett will be the first player in school history to start the season at quarterback as a freshman.
“We are not looking for Kalen to replace Corey and what he did for us last season”, said Watson. “This is a big moment for him and our program, but I believe the moment will not be too big for him. He more than handled his own in the scrimmage game, and we look for him to be a facilitator. We’re not asking him to go out there and single handily win football games for us, which is something Corey could do. He just has to be a good game manager, and I am confident he is ready. If he were not, he wouldn’t be out there.”
Defensively the Knights return several key players, including linebackers Jacob Gross, Joseph Choy, and Markel Manuel, as well as defensive linemen Chris Price, Jacob Jackson, and David Marshall. The Knights are excited to have Chris Duncan back on the defensive line, as Duncan missed much of last season with an injury. They also are excited about newcomer Dequavious Lowe, who will play defensive end. Lowe transferred to Upson-Lee from the Miami, Fla. area.
The Knights’ Justin Shaw, Shamare Bailey, Kelton Raines, Thomas Dawson, and Toby Fuentes all return to the secondary after getting extended playing time last year, while Fuentes and Dawson will be key members of the Knights wide receiving corps. Upson-Lee also will have two new faces at receiver this season with Dinasis Walker and Northside-Warner Robins transfer Keanan Hutchins. Upson-Lee’s Dre Web has moved to tight end and has looked great so far in practice along with fellow tight end Adric Johnson.
The Pirates will employ an eight man front defensively, playing a cover 3 scheme in the secondary. The Pirates do return linebacker Hunter Bishop, who tallied 89 tackles in 2012.
According to Watson, the Knights hope to score early and often. “I think it’s important to get off to a fast start,” said Watson. “We have some young players at some key positions, and scoring early should give them some confidence.” The Knight have held about 20 practice in full pads since the beginning of August, but have had this date circled on their calenders since January.
“We have been preparing for this day since January 7,” said Watson. “The guys have worked their tails off this off season and I hope the community will pack the stand at Matthews Field Friday night to support the Knights. The guys deserve to have those stands packed, and I am confident they will be.”
The Knights and the Pirates kick off their 2013 seasons at Matthews Field. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 8 p.m.