Like Georgia vs. Florida, Alabama vs. Auburn, or Clemson vs. South Carolina, this week the Knights will take part in an old rivalry which dates back to the days of R.E. Lee. The Knights will welcome the No. 9 state-ranked Griffin Bears to Matthews Field for the second time in two years. The Bears will play UL/R.E. Lee for the 63rd time tonight, and have played UL/R.E. Lee more times than any other school in their history, dating back to 1926. Griffin went 26-18-4 against the Rebels, and they are 12-2 all-time against the Knights.
Last season the Knights lost a heart breaker, 21-20, in their second game of the season. However, this year the Knights (3-4) and the Bears (6-1) are meeting much later in the season, and much more on the line for both schools.
“It’s a big game for both schools and communities,” said Knights head coach Tommy Watson. “I expect both teams to be fired up anytime these two schools meet, but especially this week with so much on the line for us and them.”
For Griffin, a win tonight at Matthews Field would mean wrapping up the No. 1 seed in Region 4B. It also means they would play the No. 4 seed from Region 4A in the week 10 cross over game. Last season, the Bears made it to the second round of the State Playoffs, losing to the eventual State Champions, Tucker High School. Upson-Lee lost in the first round of the playoffs to Lovejoy, the eventual State Runner-Up.
The Bears started many freshmen and sophomores last season, on their way to a 9-3 record. That is something the Knights are experiencing this season, playing very few seniors. Tonight, the Bears come to Matthews Field with just about everyone returning from last season, and they boast the No. 1 scoring offense in the Region 4, averaging 36 points per game.
“They are the most prolific offense in the region” said Knights Defensive Coordinator Steve Chafin. “They are very balanced, and they try to make you beat them man to man. They line up and make your player beat their player at every position. So far this season, they have been pretty successful at that strategy.”
The Bears have only suffered one loss this season, coming to the hands of the Tigers from Stockbridge High School. Stockbridge booted a game winning field goal with time running out to defeat the Bears in Griffin by a 17-14 score. That game came on the heels of the Tigers defeating Upson-Lee 13-3 the week before.
Offensively the Bears run the spread offense, and try to get the ball to their sensational sophomore wide out Darquavious Mangham (6’4”, 195). Mangham was named to the USA Today Freshman All-American Team last season. The Bears also have the ability to run the ball behind their big offensive line. In goal line and short yardage situations, the Bears will bring in their “heavy” package with three tight-ends. Their “heavy” package is something they also run late in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of tiring defenses. The Bears used their “heavy” package to come from behind and defeat Jonesboro in the fourth quarter by a 34-33 score earlier this season.
The Bears’ defense has consistently been a (4-4) eight-man front with the secondary playing cover three in the back of the defense. The Bears have given up an average of 18 points per game this season. The Bears defense leans heavily on the broad shoulders of #75 Nhigel Phillips. The 6’4”, 325-pound senior was an All-State offensive lineman last season, but has moved to defensive tackle in 2012. Griffin also has one of the speedier players in the sub-region with safety #1 Richard Wilder (5’8, 179). Wilder was timed at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash in football camps over the summer.
The Knights still hold their week 10 cross over game hopes in their own hands. For UL to have a meaningful week 10 cross over game, they must defeat Griffin tonight and Jonesboro next week, or North Clayton must lose tonight to Spalding. That game is Spalding’s Homecoming and is being played tonight at Memorial Stadium in Griffin.
Tonight’s game will be a “Black Out” at Matthews Field. The Knights will be wearing their black home jerseys, while coaches and Upson-Lee Touchdown Club members will also be wearing black. The Touchdown Club is encouraging fans to come in their all black apparel and cheer on the Knights to an upset victory over their arch rivals. Kick-off for tonight’s showdown is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.