Looking for their fourth win a row, the Upson-Lee Knights faced off with the winless North Clayton Eagles at Matthews Field on Friday night. Coming in to the game, the Eagles had lost all six games they have played in 2012, although many of those games came against tough competition. In their six games, North Clayton has played four teams which have been ranked in the top 10 in the state.
The Eagles took advantage of some Upson-Lee miscues, including returning a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown. Upson-Lee came out in the second half, scoring two touchdowns and retaking the lead 14-13, but a late Eagles score sealed the Knights fate, as North Clayton earned their first victory of the season by a 19-14 score.
“It’s disappointing,” said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “We had some turnovers which were costly, but we were able to come out in the second half and take the lead. They did some things with their screen passing game which we had not seen on film, but we need to be able to make in-game adjustments to that defensively. We were not able to do that, and they hurt us with some big plays. We have put ourselves in a tough position with three games to go, but we are going to go back and work hard this week in practice and come out ready to play Friday night up in Riverdale.”
With the Knights sporting their pink socks and shoe strings showing support for Karen Kennedy, Upson-Lee player Nick Kennedy’s mother who is battling breast cancer, they were able to come out and dominate the line of scrimmage early in the game. Freshman running back K.D. Pennyman pounded the Eagles’ defense up the middle on the first drive of the contest.
The Knights drove the ball down the field to the Eagles’ 17-yard line. However Pennyman fumbled and the Eagles picked up the fumble, returning it 83 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles’ PAT was good, and North Clayton led the Knights 7-0 with 6:52 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles were able to shut Upson-Lee’s standout quarterback Corey Moss down for the most part Friday night. Moss carried the ball 17 times for 65 yards, but did have a three-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter, giving the Knights a brief lead.
In the second quarter, the Eagles were able to burn the Knights with counter plays and running back screen passes. The Knights defense did bend quite a bit in the first half of the game, but never broke. Upson-Lee was able to get a key interception in the end zone by junior defensive back Toby Fuentes, keeping the score 7-0 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Upson-Lee came out with a little more pep in their step. The Knights were able to recover a fumble in Eagles territory, and seven plays later senior tight end Ben Barber caught an 11-yard TD pass from Moss, capping off a seven-play, 42-yard drive. Tyler Stewart’s PAT was good, and with 7:40 left in the third quarter the Knights led 7-6.
On the Eagles’ ensuing drive, they were able to burn the Knights once again with a screen pass. This time the Upson-Lee defense did break, as Ladarrius Mathis scooted for a 58-yard run after catching a pass in the flats. The North Clayton two-point conversion failed, and they led UL by a 13-7 score.
The third quarter proved to be what many though may be the turning point for the Knights in the game. After being stifled in the first half by the Eagles’ defense, the Knights and their senior standout Corey Moss were able to get going offensively in the third quarter.
Moss and Pennyman continued to pound the ball up the middle and around the edges, and after a seven-play 47-yard drive, Moss finally found some running room for a three-yard touchdown. Stewart’s PAT was good once again, and with 2:03 left in the third quarter the Knights regained the lead 14-13.
To start the fourth quarter, the Knights defense stepped up and was able to contain the Eagles offense for their first two drives of the quarter, but it was on their third drive where they took the lead for good. The Eagles mounted their longest drive of the game, and once again it was Mathis who found the end zone. The Eagles running back scored on a five-yard run, capping off a 13-play, 55-yard drive, sealing the Knights’ fate in a 19-14 loss.
The Knights must now turn their focus to the Riverdale Raiders this Friday night. The game in Riverdale will be a pivotal one in deciding region seeding for week 10 cross over games.