The Knights traveled to Stockbridge to take on the No.4 state ranked Tigers from Stockbridge High School last Friday night. From the opening kick, the Knights were backed into a corner, but fought their way out with a chance to pull off a huge upset.
After Upson-Lee fumbled the opening kick off and recovered the ball on their own 1 yard line, the Knights were in horrible field position for the entire first half. However, with 1:30 left in the football game, the Knights and the Tigers were all knotted up in an 8-8 tie.
“We knew coming into this game that points were going to be hard to come by,” said UL head coach Tommy Watson. “They have a really good football team and a great defense. We talked all week about winning the field position battle, but after fumbling the ball on the opening kick off, we had to play with our backs against the wall.”
The Knights were unable to get any resemblance of a rushing game going in the contest. The Tigers’ defensive front seemingly found their way into the back field on every running play, at times meeting the running back as soon as he got the ball. Stockbridge returned nine players on defense from a team which last season allowed only 11 points per game.
“They have as good as a defensive front as we will see this season,” said Watson. “They were big, strong, and fast, and we struggled to do much of anything offensively. We had seen on film that they were a tough team to run the ball against, and they showed proof of that against us Friday night.”
The Knights turned to freshman Kalen Puckett for offense, leaning on the arm of the 15-year-old. Puckett was sharp early, completing passes early in the game. However, eventually the Tigers’ defensive pressure got to the quarterback, as Puckett took a couple of sacks and threw three interceptions in the loss.
“He got knocked down a few times in the game, but he got right back up”, said Watson. “The kid is a winner, plain and simple. He threw some interceptions, but as coaches we have to do a better job of putting him in situations to be successful. He has a really bright future as the Upson-Lee quarterback.”
Awful field position was costly, as the Tigers scored the first two points of the game on a safety. The Tigers tackled the Knights’ running back in the end zone, with the Knights backed up to their own 1 yard line.
Defensively the Knights matched the intensity set by the Tigers defense. Upson-Lee forced four fumbles by the Tigers offense, and kept the Stockbridge running attack in check for most of the game. Upson-Lee’s defensive tackles David Marshall and Chris Duncan each clogged the middle, forcing the Tigers to run the ball on the perimeter, where the Knights linebackers were waiting. UL’s Dequavious Lowe had two fumble recoveries in the game, and Adric Johnson had a fumble recovery in which the 260-pound junior rumbled for an 84-yard touchdown.
Trailing 2-0 in the second quarter, Stockbridge took to the air, utilizing a height advantage with their tall receiver on the Knights’ shorter cornerback. Stockbridge connected on a 50-yard TD pass, as Devonte Hamilton hauled in the pass, broke a tackled and scored the first touchdown of the game. The Tigers PAT failed, and as the two teams headed into the locker room at the half, UL trailed by an 8-0 score.
In the third quarter Upson-Lee’s defense came up big with Johnson’s 84-yard fumble recovery for a score. Kenderius Pennyman had a tough time on the night running the ball, but was able to get into the end zone for the two-point conversion, and with 3:32 left in the third quarter, the Knights and the Tigers were tied 8-8.
The two teams went back and forth over the next several minutes, with each forcing the other into punting situations. The Knights had a couple of tough penalties late in the fourth quarter which loomed costly. UL received a personal foul penalty after the Knights had stopped the Tigers short of a first down on a third down play, keeping the Tigers drive alive, but once again the Knights defense stopped the Tigers offense, enabling UL to regain possession.
Later in the fourth quarter, Upson-Lee was called for an illegal formation, but according to coaches on the sidelines Upson-Lee had two tight ends in the game and seven men on the line of scrimmage. The Knights coaching staff were given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a sidelines violation. With the penalties, the Knights faced a third and long and eventually had to punt.
With just over four minutes to go in the game, the Tigers went on an 8-play, 54-yard drive, capped off with a one yard TD run by Malik Bryan. Maetron Thomas got chunks of yardage on the drive for the Tigers. Thomas was able to run on the perimeter of the UL defense. With 1:14 left in the game, it was Bryan who dove in for a 1 yard TD run. The Tigers PAT was good, sealing the Tigers 15-8 victory.
The Knights (1-1) will host the Golden Eagles (1-1) from Eagles Landing High School at Matthews Field on Friday. The Golden Eagles are coming off of a 28-7 loss to Lamar County last week. Last season the Knights escaped McDonough with a 31-29 victory. Kick off is slated for 7:30 p.m.