A dream of nearly every high school football player is to eventually play on Saturdays, but the entire Upson-Lee Knights football team will have that chance tomorrow night when they travel to take on the North Clayton Eagles at Southern Crescent Stadium.
However, the term “playing on Saturday” usually refers to a player being good enough to play at the collegiate level, not a mid-season high school game. The Knights are forced to play on Saturday against the Eagles due to the lack of stadiums in Clayton County. Many of the Clayton County schools have to share stadiums, such as 12 Oaks Stadium, Tara Stadium, and Southern Crescent Stadium. The Knights last played at Southern Crescent Stadium last season in a Friday night 36-23 loss to Riverdale. The Knights are no stranger to playing games on Saturdays, but according to UL head coach Tommy Watson, it has been a while since UL has had to change their weekly routine.
“We haven’t had to play on a Saturday night since I have been the head coach here, but we have played them against some of the Columbus schools when I was a coordinator,” stated Watson. “It’s definitely something that can become a concern, having to change up a routine that your players are used to, but sometimes change can be a good thing. We just have to come out and play fast and execute on both sides of the ball. If we can do that, it should not make a difference what day we have to play.”
Last season the Knights were looking to gain a top 4 seed in the sub-region, giving them a chance to advance to a meaningful week 10 crossover game. However, it was a winless North Clayton team that came into Matthews Field and handed the Knights a shocking 19-14 defeat, which ultimately kept the Knights out of the top 4 in the sub-region. If the Knights can earn a victory tomorrow night, Upson-Lee will solidify themselves as at least the No. 4 seed in the sub-region, meaning a week 10 victory would advance them to the State Playoffs.
“We’ve been preaching to the kids about the importance of this game all week,” said Watson. “The kids have been out of school all week for Fall Break, but we have had some really good practices early in the mornings. They (North Clayton) have yet to win a game, but they had not won a game until they beat us last season, and the players fully understand that. They know we need to go up there and take care of business to get that monkey off of our back.”
With their victory over Spalding last week, the Knights are just one sub-region victory away from clinching a top 4 seed for the Region 4 cross over game. The Knights will host Riverdale on Homecoming next Friday night, travel to Griffin to take on the No. 3 state ranked Bears the following week, and welcome the Jonesboro Cardinals to Thomaston for Senior Night in the last regular season game of the year. Last season, UL lost to all three of those teams.
Offensively the Eagles run the spread, and sometimes use an H-Back in their backfield for blocking and catching passes. Seniors (#1) Johntavious Robinson, (#10) Chris Weems, and junior (#4) Jacorey Smith are the key players for the Eagles offensively. Robinson plays running back along with playing in the secondary on defense, while Weems plays multiple positions offensively and linebacker on defense. Smith, a junior, leads the Eagles offense from the quarterback position.
Defensively the Eagles play an 8-man front and a cover 3 scheme in the secondary, something the Knights have seen already this season. Many of the Eagles top players get minutes on both sides of the ball.
“They have some really good athletes on their team,” said Watson. “We just need to continue to build on our success from the last two games. I really feel like we have gotten better offensively since the first few games of the season. We had a lot of trouble sustaining drives and moving the football on a regular basis, but our offensive line and skill players have become better football players. I still think we need to work on defending the ball in the air in the secondary. We have to get better in the secondary in order to beat the teams we need to beat in the region, but the guys are working hard in practice and I am confident they will continue to work hard and get better.”
The Knights and the Eagles will battle at Southern Crescent Stadium tomorrow night. Kick-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.