The last two seasons the Upson-Lee Knights and the Griffin Bears have played in two very competitive contests, with Griffin winning by scores of 21-20 and 28-14. After the Bears led the Knights by a 22-0 score at the end of the first quarter, it was evident this season that this Griffin team may be just a little bit too much for the Knights to handle.
The Bears only rushed for 88 yards in the game, but they connected through the air for 335 yards and two passing scores. The Bears also scored twice on special teams, something that has given the Knights problems over their last three games. The Knights did manage over 200 yards of total offense, but could not match up defensively with the Bears passing attack in the 43-13 defeat.
“They are very special offensively,” said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “We gave them two scores with a blocked punt and the kick off return. Our special teams has really let us down lately, and that is something that we have got to get fixed. Essentially we just could not contain their big wide receivers. I thought we played hard and never let down. That’s something I am proud of. They were clearly the better, more athletic team, but I thought we played hard till the last whistle.”
The Bears quickly jumped out to an early lead when Keyston Fuller returned the game’s opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. The Bears’ PAT was good, and after just 17 seconds into the game, the Knights trailed 7-0.
On the Knights’ first possession of the game, it was clear that they were looking for a balanced attack. Upson-Lee’s Sontrell Perry, who finished the game with 113 yards rushing, had a couple of nice runs early in the game, and UL’s Kalen Puckett completed a few passes to Keanan Hutchins and Toby Fuentes. However, the Bears defense forced the Knights to punt.
The Bears mounted a 10-play drive on their next possession, capped off by a 1 yard TD run from Telly Sloan. The Bears went for a two-point conversion, and found a receiver on running across the middle of the end zone. With 7:20 left in the first quarter, the Knights trailed 15-0.
The Bears defense, which came into the game allowing only 10 points a game, showed the Knights how hard it could be to move the ball on the Bears eight-man front. The Knights went three and out, and once again Tyler Stewart was forced to punt the ball away for Upson-Lee.
After a 32 yard punt by Stewart, the Bears took over on their own 30-yard line. Griffin’s quarterback Jacquez Parks began to show the skills which led him to be the all-time passing leader in Griffin history. Parks, who holds a 3.8 GPA, has offers from Harvard and Yale. The possible future Ivy Leaguer found 6’3, 180-pound Darquavious Mangham on a 43-yard TD pass down the side lines, capping off a 10-play, 70-yard drive. Mangham, is one of four Bears’ wide receivers who have offers from Division I colleges. After the Bears’ PAT, they led the Knights by a 22-0 score at the end of the first quarter.
The Knights continued to battle after a nice kick off return from Kenderius Pennyman. Starting at midfield, the Knights drove 50 yards on 10 plays for their first score of the game. Upson-Lee was able to get their running game going with senior running back Sontrell Perry. The 5’6, 155-pound running back pounded the ball up the middle of the Bears defense, many times forcing more than one Griffin defender to bring him down. After a steady dose of Perry, Upson-Lee freshman Kalen Puckett took off around the end after faking a hand off to Perry. Puckett showed some speed and dove into the end zone for his first rushing score of the season, and the Knights’ first score of the game. Stewart added the PAT, and the Knights were on the board, trailing 22-7.
Griffin added another score on their next possession. Once again it was Parks finding his big wide receivers on the drive for big chunks of yardage. His favorite target on this drive was 6’5, 210 pound junior and UGA commit Christian Owens. The Bears capped off the six -play, 57-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run from Devantae Freeman. The Bears added the PAT, and with 8:19 left before halftime, the Bears led the Knights 29-7.
Upson-Lee’s offense stalled once again, and was forced to punt the ball back over to the Bears with just over three minutes before halftime. The Bears’ air assault continued and drove the ball down to the Knights 15-yard line with just over a minute left in the first half. Parks found Owens at the one yard line, but a big hit by Upson-Lee’s Antonio Grantling knocked the ball loose, and Joey Choy recovered for UL. The Knights would run out the clock in the first half, and they headed to the locker room at halftime, trailing 29-7.
With a little momentum headed into the second half, the Knights were looking to claw their way back into the game. However, after the Bears sacked Puckett deep in Knights territory, UL was forced to punt. On the punt, it seemed to everyone except the referees that a Griffin defender jumped offside. However, no whistle was blown and it was the Griffin defender that block the Knights punt. The Bears picked up the punt on the 4-yard line and returned the ball for a touchdown. The Bears’ PAT was good, and just over a minute into the second half, Griffin added to their lead by a 36-7 score.
Griffin added their final score of the game midway through the third quarter. The Bears methodically dinked and dunked their way down the field in their passing game, and capped off a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a 8-yard TD pass from Parks to Owens. Upson-Lee’s Thomas Dawson had good coverage on the play, but the 6’5 receiver went up over the 5’7 Dawson for the catch. The Bears’ PAT was good once again, and the Bears were rolling by a 43-6 score.
The Knights could have very easily folded and given up in the game. However, Watson’s Knights continued to battle in the game. UL’s Puckett found Toby Fuentes down the middle of the field for a 34-yard completion, setting up the Knights last scoring drive of the game. Sontrell Perry capped off the four play 67 yard drive with a four-yard TD run, his eighth rushing TD of the season. The Knights went for a two point conversion, but the Knights’ run was stopped just short of the goal line, cutting the Bears lead to 43-13.
Neither team did much in the fourth quarter, and when the final whistle blew the Bears had earned a 43-13 victory.
The Knights will try to improve their seeding for the Region 4 crossover games in two weeks when they face the Jonesboro Cardinals next week. Look in Friday’s edition of The Times for an updated breakdown on the Region 4 seedings.