The Upson-Lee Knights entered their non-region contest with the Central-Macon Chargers on Friday night a bruised, battered, and short-handed team. After four quarters of play, those same Knights emerged standing tall and looking rejuvenated after a 34-13 victory over the win-less Chargers.
The Knights were missing nine starting players and it was some of the unsung players on the Knights squad who stepped up and led the Knights to victory. UL had five players suspended for the game, stemming from a fight with the Golden Eagles from Eagles Landing last week, and had five other players missing the game due to injury. However, it was UL senior Toby Fuentes who returned Friday night after being out last week with an injury and made a huge impact in a game which the Knights desperately needed to win.
“I am really proud of the way many of the guys stepped up to fill the roles of players that we knew all week would not play,” said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “They played hard, smart, and got the job done. We had a lot of players get some really good minutes in the game, and that can only make us better in the long run.”
After the Knights won the coin toss to start the game, they elected to receive. Thanks to Fuentes, UL took a lead in the contest without running a play. The 5’10 senior took the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, and after Tyler Stewart added the PAT, UL led 7-0 with 11:41 still to go in the first quarter.
“Toby brings so much to our team on both sides of the ball,” stated Watson. “We really missed him last week, but with his injury it was better for us to be on the safe side. He definitely made an impact on the game tonight, and he is probably our best play maker on offense and defense. He is a leader of our team, and when he plays hard other players take notice and also play hard.”
Not only did Fuentes score on the opening kick off return, but he also hauled in a 56-yard TD pass from Kalen Puckett, and he added two interceptions on defense.
After the Knights took the quick lead, it was Upson-Lee’s defense which took control of the game. UL sophomore David Marshall and senior Chris Duncan were literally unblockable, seemingly in the backfield of the Chargers the entire night. The Upson-Lee defense kept the Chargers and their All-Middle Georgia RB Jordan Colbert in check, forcing the Chargers to try and beat the Knights through the air.
Offensively the Knights showed a formation which they had not shown this season. In all three games this season, freshman QB Kalen Puckett started in the backfield, but on Friday night, it was RB Kenderius Pennyman who played the QB position, usually out of the shotgun. Puckett was split out wide as a wide receiver, but throughout the game, Puckett and Pennyman traded positions.
Flanked to each side of Pennyman in the backfield were senior Sontrell Perry and junior Malik Crafter, forming a type of “Wildcat” formation. Perry leads the Knights in rushing this season, coming into the contest with 314 yards rushing on just 26 carries, and average of 12.07 yards per carry. Crafter made his season debut in the backfield, and responded with a nice game. The 6’2, 195 pound RB carried the ball 12 times for 48 yards, many times dragging defenders along the way.
Leading 7-0, UL added another score with just 51 seconds to go in the first quarter. Kenderius Pennyman scored on a 3 yard TD run out of the wildcat formation, capping off a 3-play, 29-yard drive. The Knights had great field position on the drive thanks in part to the first of two interceptions by Fuentes. After Stewart added the PAT, UL led by a 14-0 score.
In the second quarter of play, the Knights moved Puckett back to the QB position, and split Pennyman out wide. After the freshman QB made a couple of nice runs in the middle of the field, he found Fuentes streaking down the the middle of the field and fired a 56-yard TD strike for the Knights’ third score of the game. Stewart once again added the PAT, and with 7:47 left to go in the first half, the Knights were up 21-0.
Upson-Lee’s defense once again stepped up and stopped the Chargers offense. Markel Mannuel came up with a big sack on the drive, forcing the Chargers to punt the football. UL was looking to get another score before halftime, but turned the ball over with a fumble deep in their own territory. Central took over on the Knights 30-yard line, and just two plays later they scored on a 30-yard TD pass. The Chargers’ kick was good, and the score at the half had UL with a 21-7 lead.
The Knights pounded the ball on the ground in the second half of the game, and the UL offensive line consisting of Justin Ellis, Andrew Moore, Logan Gulley, Malik Buckle, Jeffery Washington, and Pierce Thompson began to wear down the Chargers defensive front. Upson-Lee took advantage and converted 16 first downs in the second half, with all of them coming on UL rushes.
In the third quarter, Pennyman added an 18-yard TD run to give the Knights a 27-7 lead. The UL point after was no good due to a bad snap. Later in the same quarter, Fuentes snared his second interception of the game, setting up a 10-play, 69- yard drive capped off by a 5-yard TD pass from Pennyman to tight end Dre Web. Stewart’s PAT was good, and with just 38 seconds to go in the third quarter, UL lead by a 34-7 score.
The Chargers added a score with just over three minutes in the game, but the damage by the Knights running attack had been done. UL was able to get some back ups in the game both offensively and defensively. UL sophomore Kendarious “Scoop” Traylor came in to play quarterback and rushed the ball twice for 17 yards. Damian Leonard and Juwan Adams also came in for the Knights at running back, as each carried the ball twice. Leonard tallied 17 yards, while Adams rushed for 25 yards.
Upson-Lee will be off next week before they travel to Griffin and play the win-less Spalding Jaguars in two weeks.
“This bye week could not come at a better time for us,” said Watson. “We need to get some guys healthy and we really need to work on our pass defense and our passing offense. We knew that coming into the season that the secondary was going to be a concern for us. I felt like we were in better position to make plays on Friday night, but we did not make the plays. Earlier this season we felt we were not even in the right position at times. We just really need to stress those two aspects of the game over the next two weeks.”
The Knights open up their Region 4B play in Griffin next Friday night against Spalding. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.