The Upson-Lee Knights were depending on two other teams to come through for victories to help Upson-Lee seal a No. 2 seed in the sub-region and host a week 10 crossover game. Pike County and Union Grove held up their ends, knocking off Henry County and Drew respectively, but the Knights were unable to hold up their end of the bargain by falling to Jonesboro on Friday night in a 15-3 defeat.
Last season the Knights and the Cardinals were in a shootout, scoring a combined 79 points in the ball game. However, on Friday night, it was a battle of attrition for both teams, as the defenses took center stage for much of the ball game. The Knights held Jonesboro to just two yards rushing in the first half, but it was a school record of 363 yards allowed through the air which ultimately made the difference in the game.
“We did not execute very well defensively,”said UL head coach Tommy Watson. “We had some penalties that really cost us. We had been beaten on some deep passes this season, but they were able to throw some of the intermediate routes underneath our coverage. We’re just not very good defending the pass. That’s something we must figure out how to do better.”
The Knights are allowing only 3.6 yards per carry this season on the defensive side of the ball, but UL is giving up nearly 16 yards per pass and opponents have a 54 percent completion percentage. On Friday night, it was more of the same for Upson-Lee.
Jonesboro struggled to run the ball at all against the Knights’ big defensive front. At halftime, UL had held Jonesboro to just two yards rushing. Both teams struggled to do much offensively in the first half. Jonesboro moved the ball a little through the air in the first half, but interceptions by Jacob Gross and Toby Fuentes kept the Cardinals from putting points on the board.
Jacob Gross’ interception set up the Knights’ first and only scoring drive of the game. After Gross returned the interception back to the Cardinals’ 27-yard-line, UL senior Tyler Stewart booted a 35-yard field goal, capping off the four-play, seven-yard drive. The field goal was Stewart’s 16th of his career, extending his UL record. With 5:04 still remaining in the first half, the Knights held a 3-0 lead.
The Knights continued to shut down the Cardinals’ running game. Jonesboro finished the game with 28 carries for 38 yards, a clip of 1.3 yards per carry. Late in the second quarter, the Knights defense forced Jonesboro into a punting situation on a fourth and long from the Knights 40-yard-line. However, as has been the case for the Knights this season, the ball just did not bounce the Knights way.
After a bad snap on the punt, the punter, who is also the quarterback, was forced to run around in the backfield. After running towards one sideline and turning around running towards the other sideline, the Cardinals punter/quarterback found a receiver running in the middle of the field. The Cardinals’ player caught the ball, slipped a tackle and dove in for a touchdown with just 34 seconds remaining in the first half. The Knights coaches were in an outrage on the sidelines, stating that several players were down field on the pass. According to rules, only five players can be down field on a pass play and it seemed that nearly every player was down field, expecting to punter to kick the ball.
After the missed call by the refs, the two teams headed into the locker room with the Cardinals holding an 8-3 lead.
In the second half of the game, both teams had opportunities to move the ball offensively, but penalties and turnovers put a stop to drives for each team. In the fourth quarter, UL’s senior running back Sontrell Perry got the Knights running game going, but once again it was a Knights turnover that put an end to the UL drive.
After Perry rushed for three consecutive first downs, the Knight decided to go to the air for a shot down field, but Puckett’s pass intended for Fuentes was intercepted at the Cardinals’ 27-yard-line with just over five minutes to go in the game.
The Cardinals found their offense on their next drive. Unfortunately for Upson-Lee, it was the nail in the coffin to seal the game. On a fourth and goal from the Knights 1/2 yard line, the Cardinals scored on a dive up the middle. The Cardinals PAT was good, and with just 2:02 left in the game, the Cards took a 15-3 lead. UL would be unable to add anything to the scoreboard, as the Cardinals earned the 15-3 victory.
With the loss, the Knights drop to 4-5 on the season, but their playoff hopes are still alive. The Knights will be the No. 4 seed from Region 4B and will travel to Stockbridge on Friday night to face the No. 1 seeded Tigers from Region 4A. The Knights and Stockbridge battled back in week 2, with Stockbridge winning the game by a 15-8 score. A victory by the Knights on Friday, and they will knock out the states No. 8 ranked team, sending UL to a first round playoff match up with Veterans High School in Warner Robins.