It did not take long for the Upson-Lee Knights and No. 8 state ranked Griffin Bears to get a little rowdy on Friday night. In a game which was important to both schools, the two teams, which already have a disdain for each other, nearly got into an all out brawl early in the first quarter.
With the Bears near mid-field and facing a fourth and one to go, the Upson-Lee defense stuffed the Bears running back for no gain. The play, which caused a huge pile up of players, like many short yardage plays do, quickly erupted into players pushing and shoving each other, while players from both sidelines also started onto the field. After Matthews Field was littered with penalty flags, the play resulted in the Knights having one player ejected, and the Bears gaining 30 yards in penalty yardage, although penalties were called on both teams.
“That’s two rival football teams which quite frankly do not care for each other too much,” said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “I do not tell my players to start fights and we are not a dirty team, but this team will not back down from anyone or any team, and that’s the way it should be. That’s what happens in rivalry games.”
After the pushing, shoving, and penalty flags, the two teams resumed football. Both defenses dominated the game early on. The Knights had trouble getting going on offense. Junior running back Kelton Raines stepped in for the injured freshman running back K. D. Pennyman. Raines would finish the game with 68 yards on just 13 carries, but in the opening quarter of play Raines and senior standout Corey Moss found gaining yards to be troublesome against the Bears’ defense.
The Knights defense also held Griffin scoreless in the first quarter, a team that entered the game leading the region in points at 36 points per game.
In the second quarter, the Bears took advantage of a questionable pass interference call, in which it looked as if the Bears’ receiver tackled the Knights defender. However, the side judge referee saw things quite differently from everyone on the Knights side lines and in the stands.
The penalty moved the ball to the Knights 15-yard line, and one play later the Bears scored on a 15-yard TD run. Their PAT was good, and with 7:47 left in the first half, the Bears led the Knights 7-0.
Upson-Lee continued to have trouble moving the ball in the second quarter, the Bears seemingly had two defenders on Corey Moss wherever he went, and the Knights had no solution, at least no solution in the first half.
With 1:43 remaining in the first half, the Bears added to their lead with a bomb to their freshman All-American from a season ago. The Bears sent sophomore wide receiver Darquavious Mangham (6’3, 195) on a stop and go route. After a pump fake from the Bears quarterback, Mangham raced past the Knights secondary, catching the 60-yard TD bomb. After the PAT the Bears lead 14-0, and that would be the score at halftime.
In the third quarter, the Knights defense stepped up and forced Griffin to punt, but the Knights offense continued to be stagnant. After possession of the football changed hands a couple of times, the Bears embarked on their longest drive of the game. Griffin added to their lead with a 32-yard TD pass and catch on fourth down and miles to go, and again it was Mangham who was the recipient. After the PAT, the Bears led the Knights 21-0 with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter.
The Knights offense woke up in the fourth quarter, and scored their first points of the game with 9:11 left in the contest. After a great interception from junior linebacker Jacob Gross, the Knights took over possession on the Bears 30-yard line. Two plays later, Moss found senior wide receiver Travis Pittman on a post pattern in the end zone for an 18-yard TD reception. Tyler Stewart’s PAT was good, and the Knights trailed 21-7.
The Knights defense stepped up on the Bears next drive, and forced a turnover on downs at the Upson-Lee 44-yard line. On the Knights first play of the drive, Corey Moss found junior wide receiver Toby Fuentes down the side lines for a 47- yard reception. On the next play, Moss would reach pay dirt with a 4-yard TD run. Stewart’s PAT was once again good, and with 7:27 left in the game, the Knights were right back in it, trailing 21-14.
With a 21-14 lead, the Bears changed strategy and took to a ground attack. The Bears were able to drive the ball down the field, scoring on a 3-yard TD run, capping off a 14-play, 57-yard drive. The touchdown and PAT gave the Bears a 28-14 lead, sealing the Knights fate.
“I thought the kids played as hard as they possibly could,” said Watson. “I’m proud of their effort, I’m proud to be their coach, and I’m proud to be a part of Upson-Lee football. I think our program took a step in the right direction tonight. With the young guys we have on this team, I beleive Upson-Lee football has a bright future.”
The Knights will now hit the road to face yet another top 10 team in the state, when they face the #9 state ranked Cardinals from Jonesboro High School at 12 oaks Stadium in Lovejoy next Friday night.
With the Knights loss to Griffin Friday night, Upson-Lee needed Spalding to defeat North Clayton in Griffin on Friday night to secure a top 4 seed in the sub-region. However, North Clayton beat Spalding 12-0 and will now receive the No. 4 seed. The top 4 seeds in the sub-region will play a cross over game with sub-region 4A and the winners will advance to the state playoffs. The Knights will be the No. 5 seed whether they win or lose next Friday night, and will not be in the playoffs in 2012.
As it looks now, the Knights will play Woodland High School on Nov. 9, but that could change as the final seedings from the “A” side of the region will not be final until after next Friday night’s games. The “B” side of the region is set as follows; No. 1 Griffin, No. 2 Jonesboro, No. 3 Riverdale, No. 4 North Clayton, No. 5 Upson-Lee, No. 6 Spalding. As the No. 6 seed, Spalding will not have a chance to play a region cross over game since their are only five teams on the “A” side of the region. Instead Spalding will play the last place team in Region 4 AAAAA, which looks to be Mt. Zion or Forest Park.
The Knights game against Jonesboro is slated to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Friday night.