As is the case for most successful high school football teams, the annual Homecoming Game is usually one in which the home team should earn an easy victory. The Knights are 18-3 in Homecoming Games since the schools inception 21 years ago. However, the 2013 Homecoming Game for the Knights is anything but a cupcake match up for the home team.
Tonight Upson-Lee will take on the Riverdale Raiders in what is definitely the most important game of the season thus far for both teams. The winner of the game tonight will have the easy road to a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the week 10 crossover game, which is a guaranteed home game. Last week the Raiders narrowly defeated Spalding by a 20-19 score, blocking a Jags PAT late in the fourth quarter. The Raiders were ranked in the preseason Top 10 in the state rankings by some publications, but an injury to the Raiders starting quarterback led to a four game losing streak which was snapped last week.
“They have some of the best athletes in the entire region”, said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “They took a big loss when their quarterback got hurt, but until then they also had one of the best offenses in the region. They have some huge wide receivers and a big offensive line. The injury bug has bitten them in the last couple of weeks and they missed some players in the Spalding game. I’m not sure if any of those guys will be back this week, but we are practicing as if they will be. I know the quarterback is out for the season, but if they can find a way to get their athletes the ball in space, they can be very dangerous. We will have our hands full on defense.”
Riverdale’s senior quarterback Greg Taylor suffered a season ending knee injury in their 31-10 loss to Eagles Landing. Since that game the Raiders have struggled to score offensively. They were defeated 49-0 by Griffin, and scored only two offensive touchdowns in a 20-19 victory over Spalding last week.
The Raiders run a spread offense out of the shotgun 95 percent of the time, trying to get the ball to their big wide receivers. Senior Rashad Canty stands around 6’4” and has committed to play at Appalachain State, but also received offers from Southern Miss, Tulane, and Minnesota just last week. Lined up next to Canty is 6’5” Garrad Gober, who caught a jump ball touchdown last week against the Jags. In their game against Spalding the Raiders featured Trey Sanders in their backfield. Sanders, who was primarily used as a slot receiver in their first six games of the season, ran the ball 11 times for 94 yards and a touchdown last week. He also returned a kick off for a 92 yard touchdown.
The Raiders head coach this season may be familiar to some of the Knights fans. Terry Herrod was previously the Defensive Coordinator at Dutchtown. The Knights expect to see a 6-1 defensive front, which is a 4-3 scheme with the two outside linebackers walked up on the line of scrimmage. The Raiders also almost always play man coverage in the secondary. Riverdale’s defense is led by linebacker Chinedu Okonya (6’2, 220) at the outside linebacker position, while his 6’6”, 240 pound younger brother Chidi Okonya, mans the other outside linebacker position. In the middle of the Raider defensive line stands 6’5”, 250 pound defensive tackle Isaiah Gilliard looks to stuff the run.
“They have some big and fast guys on defense”, said Watson. “They like to get penetration into the backfield and cause havoc. Our offensive line will have to do a good job on their pass and run blocking. They also have a pretty good player at safety who is seemingly in on every play.”
The safety which Watson was referring to is Isa Muhammad, a 6’, 190 pound senior which has committed to Kenesaw State University. He currently lead the Raiders in tackles.
Last week the Knights took care of the Eagles from North Clayton, as senior Sontrell Perry accumulated 75 yards rushing on just six carries. Perry is averaging over 10 yards per carry this season, and will surely see more action this week. Last week the Knights held a 33-6 lead, and they were able to play some of their back up players.
A win in tonight’s contest would set up a Sub-Region Championship Game next week in Griffin. However, the Knights must take care of business tonight in order for the big match up next week to be for the No. 1 seed. Kick off for tonight’s 2013 Homecoming Game is slated for 7:30 p.m.