Upson Lee Knights (4-0, 1-0) @ West Laurens Blue Raiders (4-1, 1-0)
When: Tonight (7:30 p.m.)
Where: Horseshoe Stadium “The SHU” (Dexter, GA)
Last Season: (9-4, 5-1) (lost St. Pius X 31-13 in 3rd round of playoffs, def Bainbridge 23-17 in first round and Stephens County 30-14 in round 2)
Last Meeting: WL 28, UL 24 (2014)
Series Record: WL leads 1-0
Head Coaches: UL- Tommy Parks (11-3 in 2nd season at UL, 65-57 in 12th year overall) WL- Stacey Nobles (26-22 in 6th season at WL, 26-22 in 6th season overall)
Key Players: #4 RB-Darius Bradford, (Jr) (5’11, 200) 1st Team All-Region in 2014
#46 DL-Mataio Elvine, (Jr) (6’2, 220) 1st Team All-Region in 2014
#2 DB-Greg Covin, (Sr,) (5’10, 180) 1st Team All-Region in 2014
#43 DL-Trey Mason, (Sr.) (5’11, 200) 2nd Team All-Region in 2014
#25 LB-Jarrett Henry, (Sr.) (6’0, 190) 2nd Team All-Region in 2014
#72 DL-Shundrekus Smith, (Jr,) (6’3, 270) 2nd Team All-Region in 2014
#15 DB-Eric Scott, (Sr.) (5’10, 185) 2nd Team All-Region in 2014
When the Upson Lee Knights travel to Dexter tonight, they may see themselves in their opponent. Both Upson Lee and West Laurens lean heavily on their power running games, and both have a standout running back in their back field.
West Laurens has played five games (4-1), with their only loss coming to Westside-Macon, while Upson Lee has only played four games, winning all four. That’s one of the few differences between these two teams. According to UL Head Coach Tommy Parks, the Blue Raiders will be the biggest challenge the Knights have seen in 2015.
“This is a big game, as is any region game,” said Parks. “They are going to be a team you have to beat if you are looking for a Region Championship. They are the defending champs, and the road to the playoff starts with them. They are a very physical football team, and they want to find out if you are really ready to play football. This game is going to be a great measuring stick for us to see where we are at as a team. They are extremely well coached, and they do not beat themselves. They like to run the football, and they want to see if you can stop them.”
The running game Coach Parks is referring to starts and ends with All-Region running back Darius Bradford. The 5’11, 200-pound junior running back rushed for 232 yards on 37 carries last week in the Blue Raiders 21-14 victory over Howard.
Bradford is very similar to Upson Lee running back Quay Reviere. Both are just under six feet and around 200 pounds, running with a low center of gravity. Bradford, like Reveire, has shown the ability to not only run past defenders, but to also run through them. The similarities don’t stop there.
While Bradford has played five games and Reviere has only played four games, their stats are nearly identical. Bradford averages 19 carries a game, where Reviere gets around 22 carries. Bradford averages 7.1 yards per carry, while Reveire averages 6.9 yards per carry. Reviere has rushed for 619 yards this season, while Bradford has rushed for 654 yards in 2015. The only major difference, is Reveire has rushed for 12 touchdowns for the Knights, while Bradford has rushed for eight touchdowns.
There are more similarities between these two offenses. West Laurens quarterback Jalen Mack has completed 18 of 35 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns, while UL’s Kalen Puckett has completed 20 of 38 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns. Knights leading receiver Wyqauvious Battle has caught nine passes for 187 yards and a score, while West Laurens leading receiver Brandon Stuckey has caught eight balls for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, West Laurens runs a 3-man front, led by two returning All-Region players, Shundrekis Smith (6’3, 270) and Trey Mason (5’11, 200). According to Parks, this is the strength of their team.
“They do not have many holes anywhere,” said Parks. “They have one of the best defensive fronts we will see this year. They are physical and they tackle well.”
Upson Lee and West Laurens will kickoff tonight at 7:30 p.m., with the winner inching closer to a spot in the state playoffs.
In other games around Region 2 tonight, Perry (1-4, 0-1) will try to bounce back and play a full 48 minutes. Last week they played Mary Persons to a 7-7 tie in the first half, but were outscored 35-7 in the second half of the game. The Panthers will be hosting another team looking to bounce back, the Howard Huskies (4-1, 0-1). Howard suffered a 21-14 loss to West Laurens last week in Macon. The Huskies could not hold onto a fourth quarter lead, fumbling late in the game, setting up the West Laurens’ game winning drive.
Veterans (1-3, 0-0) is coming off of a bye week, and will be traveling to Milledgeville to face the Baldwin Braves. The Warhawks are led by UNC commit Logan Byrd at quarterback, but have been running the ball in 2015. Senior running back Desjuan Harris led the region in rushing going into last week. Harris has rushed for 623 yards in four games. Baldwin will look to rebound from their 29-21 loss to Upson Lee last week. Last season Baldwin escaped Veterans with a 22-19 victory.
The No. 4 state ranked Bulldogs from Mary Persons (5-0, 1-0) are on a bye this week. They will travel to Macon next week to take on Howard.
Wes McCard can be contacted at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.