Upson Lee Knights (5-1) @ Mary Persons Bulldogs (6-0)
When: Tonight (7:30 p.m.)
Where: Dan Pitts Stadium (Forsyth)
2014 Record: 9-3 (Defeated Westover 14-0 in 1st round of playoffs, lost to Buford 35-14 in 2nd round of playoffs.)
Last Meeting: MP 42, Upson Lee 0 (2014)
Series Record: MP leads 1-0
Head Coach: UL- Tommy Parks (12-4 at in 2nd season at UL, 66-58 overall in 12th season) MP- Brian Nelson (29-8 in 4 years at MP, 29-8 in 4th year overall)
Key Players: #5 DL-Malik Herring (Jr.) (6’5, 245) Holds numerous Division I offers, including Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida State.
#18 QB-Jake Johnston (Sr.) (6’4, 195) 2nd Team All-Region in 2014
#24 RB-Zach Harvey (Jr.) (6’1, 193) 614 yards on 98 carries, with 8 TDs so far this season.
#75 DT-Dan O’Neal (Jr.) (5’11, 235)
It seems as if Upson Lee and Mary Persons have already formed a rivalry, even though they have just played one football game against each other.
In every other sport last season, any Upson Lee/Mary Persons game seemed a little more intense. Last year the Knights and the Bulldogs played their first football game, and leading up to the affair, the two communities were eager to be the first with bragging rights. Unfortunately for Upson Lee, Mary Persons dominated the Knights 42-0, leaving an empty feeling in the pits of many Knights fans, players, and coaches.
“That game sticks out in our mind because of the way we didn’t play,” said UL head coach Tommy Parks. “As a staff we felt like that’s the one game we laid down. We didn’t stand up to the challenge and they dominated us in every way. However, last year’s was last year and this year’s game is totally different and that’s what we are focused on.”
In the game last season, Mary Persons held Upson Lee to just 79 yards of total offense, while piling up 490 yards of offense at Matthews Field. The Knights turned the ball over twice, while Mary Persons did not have a turnover. The Bulldogs also tallied 27 first downs, the most ever by an Upson Lee opponent.
This season, Mary Persons is undefeated, but they have had some close calls, and they have been challenged by some region opponents. In their season opener against Jackson, Mary Persons had to go into overtime to earn the victory. The Bulldogs defeated Perry 42-12, but at halftime the game was tied 7-7. Last week they faced Howard, and led the Huskies 20-14 at halftime, before earning a 47-21 victory.
The game Friday night will feature some new faces for the Bulldogs, who graduated nearly 30 seniors from last season. Almost every MP player that scored last season against the Knights graduated in 2015. However, QB Jake Johnston returns as the leader for the Dawgs offense. Last season Johnston threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns against the Knights. This season he has thrown for 804 yards and eight touchdowns, while only throwing two picks. The Dawgs average 134 yards passing per game.
According to UL Head Coach Tommy Parks, Mary Persons is one of the more balanced teams in the region.
“Offensively they have a balanced attack,” said Parks. They have a really good offensive line up front, and they try to spread you out and get their athletes in space, but they can also come at you with a power running game.”
The Bulldogs have two running backs with over 475 yards rushing. Junior Zach Harvey has carried the ball 98 times for 614 yards and eight touchdowns, while senior Jaquavious Sims has carried the ball 111 times for 480 yards and five touchdowns. Mary Persons averages 217.8 yards rushing per game.
Defensively the Dawgs runs a three man front, and boast two of the best defensive linemen in the region. Junior #5 Malik Herring (6’5, 245) is a defensive end who has multiple Division I offers, and leads the team with 13 tackles for a loss. Junior #75 Dan O’Neal (5’11, 235) is considered one of the better nose tackles in the region.
“They are so good up front that it’s hard to get out in space offensively,” said Parks. “They have really good team speed and tackle well. This is going to be a physical game, and the team that controls field position and doesn’t turn the ball over will probably win.”
The Knights and Bulldogs will battle tonight at Dan Pitts Stadium in Forsyth. Kick off is at 7:30 p.m., but get there early. The stadium parking lot is under construction and they will be shuttling people to and from the game from the school parking lot.
Wes McCard can be contacted at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.