Area Sports...

OCTOBER 29, 2003

Business As Usual
Commerce Rolls Over Overmatched ACS
A David and Goliath pairing, yes, but one where Goliath trampled his undersized foe.
Facing a vastly undermanned Eagle team that featured only 20 players, Commerce scored on its first five offensive possessions and also got a 72-yard interception return from Dennis Wilder in a 44-7 romp over Athens Christian.
More important than the final score was that many of the defensive understudies were in by the second quarter and the offensive backups took over at the start of the second half.
Tiger head coach Steve Savage estimated that everybody wearing pads and a helmet on the Commerce sideline got in for a snap.
“I thought they all did a good job,” he said of his team. “It’s always good to see some of the young kids get in there on Friday night.”
The first 16 seconds of the ball game left little doubt as to what kind of contest this was going to be.
David Evans scooped the opening kickoff and returned it to the Eagle 41 and David Bray busted up the middle untouched on the Tigers first play from scrimmage and rumbled 41 yards for the score.
It was the second straight contest that the Tigers scored on their first offensive play.
After that, it was Dennis Wilder’s stage as he tallied Commerce’s next three scores before getting the second half off.
On the Tigers’ second possession, the senior tailback took an option pitch 49 yards down the right sideline for his eighth rushing touchdown of the season and Commerce led 13-0 not even three minutes into the game.
Seven minutes later Wilder, who carried the ball only six times for 79 yards, crashed in from two yards out this time on another option play to put the Tigers up 20-0 with two and a half minutes still remaining in the opening quarter.
Athens Christian tried to keep afloat with its aerial attack with quarterback Nick Dalton lofting a pass deep into Tiger territory but Wilder secured his third interception of the year and wheeled his way 72 yards for another Commerce score as the first quarter horn sounded.
It was the second straight defensive series where the Tiger picked off a pass with Jesse Smith halting Athens Christian’s previous drive at the Commerce 24 with the first interception of his Tiger career.
Commerce put the ball in the air as well, using its fourth possession of the contest to work on its passing attack as quarterback Haynes threw five times on the drive. However, Haynes used his feet to deliver the score, going 43-yards down the left sideline for his seventh rushing touchdown of the year, putting Commerce up 33-0 with 6:44 left in the second quarter.
Haynes ended the night with 64 yards rushing on six carries and was 3-of-6 through the air for 80 yards.
The five consecutive touchdowns which started the game were followed by a 37-yard field goal from Tommy Eason which put the Tigers up 36-0 with five minutes before halftime.
That left the second half for the subs.
Third string tailback Josh Hill helped key Commerce’s final scoring drive ripping off two long runs to put the Tigers down to the 15 and Ben Thomas whipped a 14-yard completion to Jake Askey at the one.
Two plays later, Thomas crashed in on a sneak from one yard out for his first varsity touchdown to put Commerce up 44-0 with 7:16 left in the game.
About the only minor disappointment of the night was that the Commerce defensive backups ups failed to complete the shutout.
Dalton completed a long pass deep into Tiger territory in the waning seconds and then scored on the last play of the game on a five-yard sneak.
THIS AND THAT
Wilder Closing In On Another 1,000-Yards Season
Dennis Wilder needs 85 yards against Towns County this Friday to reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the second straight season. The senior tailback has 915 yards so far this year, giving him 2,429 yards for his career which is 10th best on Commerce’s all-time list. He is 242 yards shy of Steve Gary (1964-1966) who ranks ninth.
Wilder also has 11 this touchdowns — nine rushing, one receiving and one off his 72-yard interception an interception return this past Friday.
•David Evans’ 34-yard kickoff return to open the game was the Tigers’ second longest of the season.
•Senior Michael Sailors recorded his fist interception of his career near the Commerce goalline at the end of the third quarter to stop an potential Athens Christian scoring drive. The Tigers now have eight picks on the season.
•Commerce rushed for 233 yards Friday, giving them three consecutive games of 200 yards rushing or better. The team is now averaging 228.5 yards on the ground per contest.
•The Tigers had four players rush for more than 40 yard in the game — Wilder (79), Josh Haynes (64), David Bray (46) and Josh Hill (41).
•Commerce has now won 16 of its last 20 games.


Test of endurance
Runners close season at region meet
Though Banks County’s cross country season ended Thursday, the Leopard runners have plenty reason to be optimistic.
Only one runner, Lady Leopard Erin Westmoreland, will graduate from this year’s squad. All of the boys will return for next year.
“This has been the most dedicated group of boy runners I have ever had as a whole,” head coach Kelly McDuffie said. “They did a great job and really have potential for next year.”
The boys and girls teams placed seventh in the region meet. Mitch Cagle grabbed a 17th finish overall at the meet with a 19:18 time for the boys.
Justin Varner posted a personal best 20:23 in the run. Clint Lewallen also had his personal best at 20:42.
Finishing behind the top three were: Kelen Rylee, a personal best 22:21; Daniel Mitchell, 22:58; Josh Poole, 23:27; and Rob Allen, 25:54.
R.N. Bellamy led the JV boys with a 22:35, his personal best. Finishing after him were: Lee Morgan, a personal best 23:08; Corey Schmid, 24:18; Aaron Wagner, 24:23; Kevin Wade, 24:24; Tim Patterson, 25:36; Matt Mullins, 25:39; and Trent Gragg, 26:37.
Katrina Kyle led the varsity girls field with a 25:41 finish, her personal best. Lauren Reiselt finished behind her with a 27:10.
Other finishers included: Amelia Carroll, 28:07; Kayla Duncan, 28:20; Penny Mullins, 28:46; Allie Strickland, 30:03; and Erin Westmoreland, 31:38.
For the JV girls, Lacey Bennett placed fourth overall and posted her personal best, a 24:30 finish. Behind her were Samantha Porter, a personal best 27:12; Sharonda Smith, personal best 29:20; and Anna Garrison, 34:10.
MADISON COUNTY
In a meet with Madison County early last week, the varsity boys and girls both finished second in a field of four. The boys were behind Stephens while the girls fell just behind Franklin County.
“Our runners had a great race and some posted their best time,” McDuffie said.
Lauren Reiselt led the way for the girls and posted a 26:42, her best time.
Other finishers were: Penny Mullins, 27:34; Erin Westmoreland, 30:49; Anna Garrison, 31:01; Angela Hand, 32:14; and Hannah Jordan, 33:58.
For the boys, Kelen Rylee, 22:12; Josh Poole, 22:21; and R.N. Bellamy, 23:04, all posted their best times.
MIDDLE SCHOOL
At the Madison County meet, Lacey Bennett posted her best time with a 24:31 and a fourth place overall finish.
Michael Sanders finished first for the boys. Daniel McDuffie posted his best time of 16:28 on the two mile.
Running at the region meet on a two mile course in the JV race were: Daniel McDuffie, Heather Grizzard, Kayla Streisguth, Barbara Johnson, Stephen Giles and Michael Sanders.
“Coach Dana Boling and I are very excited to think that we may be able to have a middle school schedule next year if the interest remains,” McDuffie said.


Dragons enjoy bye, prepare for rival Commerce Nov. 7
This year’s off-week of preparation for the always anticipated Jefferson/ Commerce rivalry game will be more pleasant for the home team. That is, compared to what the Dragons were coming off of a season ago when they were somewhat dejected by their narrow 10-7 defeat to the Redskins.
“It obviously affected us in that off week preparing for Commerce,” Jefferson head coach Bill Navas said of last year’s loss.
The good news for the Dragons is they are in a different position this time around.
Last Friday Jefferson put to rest a year’s worth of angst when they avenged a 2002 Redskin win by dominating Social Circle 35-14 at Memorial Stadium. The victory cleared the way for the team to focus on their remaining two regular season games against Commerce (Nov. 7) and Athens Academy (Nov. 14).
The win was the most important one of the season for the Dragons, who now thanks to the victory can focus on trying to win the region championship and positioning themselves for the state playoffs which begin in roughly four weeks time.
Friday the offense came out strong and performed with precision, the defense was inspired and sturdy, and Memorial Stadium was alive with excitement.
Winning the region title, however, will take a similar effort in the coming weeks, with arguably the top two teams in Region 8-A remaining on the schedule.
An eight-game losing streak to the Tigers has many Jefferson faithful hoping for an end to one of the longer stints in the series without a win. Commerce’s longest streak of victories in a row (11) was between 1983 and 1993, but the current domination by the Tigers is threatening that mark. Last season Commerce dominated play en route to a 36-7 home win.
The Dragons last beat Commerce in 1995, while their longest stretch of wins in a row (5) has not occured since the 1967-1971 stretch.
The Tigers host Towns County this Friday before traveling to Jefferson next week.


Next up: Goliath
Madison Co. faces Buford and its 37 consecutive wins
It’s a forgone conclusion that Madison County is playing the best school in Class AA Friday night.
But the team’s task could be much more loftier than that when it lines up against top-ranked Buford on the road.
“They (Buford) might be the best team in the state regardless of classification,” Madison County head coach Tom Hybl told the Journal last week.
With Parkview’s 46-game winning streak ending earlier this season, the Wolves, who boast six Division I prospects, argueably stand as the state’s premiere team, carrying a 37-game winning streak into Friday’s game against Madison County.
You have to go back to Dec. 15, 2000 against Commerce in the Class A state championship to find the team’s last loss. Since then — besides winning 37 games in a row — Buford has claimed a Class A title and a Class AA crown and, by all indications, are primed for a three-peat this year.
And don’t think everybody in the state isn’t keeping an interested eye on the Gwinnett County school.
“There is pressure,” ninth-year Buford head coach Dexter Wood said. “We get everybody’s “A” game. “We’re carrying that bulls-eye on our back ... Everybody seems to get up for us.”
Buford might be getting its opponent’s best but that’s done little to put a dent in the Wolves’ armor this year with the 7-0 team outscoring its foes by an average of 39-3
With Buford nearly three years removed from its last loss, one would think the regular season has become a mere formality for the Wolves, void of challenges. Look no further than last week when Buford waxed supposed rival Wesleyan 43-3 in a game that had major region ramifications coming in.
However, Wood — who with 28 years of experience overall under his belt is one of the state’s deans of coaching — said his group has done a good job of taking the season one game at a time but not counting the wins as it goes.
“The streak is not really mentioned around here,” he said. “We’ve got a really good environment where we focus on our region schedule and winning a region championships and hopefully getting to the playoff healthy.”
Despite his team’s unblemished mark, Wood said the year has yielded mixed results so far with inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball. The coach claims he’s more worried than ever about his team’s matchup with the Raiders. It was Madison County, after all, that played Buford closer than any team on the Wolves’ schedule last year in a 21-7 loss.
“They’re the best team we’ll play all year,” Wood said of the Raiders. “I think last year’s game was evidence of that. It was our closest game of the year. Coach Hybl does a great job. Their scheme gives us trouble. Last year, they shut us down offensively. This is also a game that comes right in the middle of our region schedule so it might be a situation where were not as focused. This game scares me to death.”


Something has got to give
Jackson Co. homecoming game pits winless foes
For Jackson County, this year’s homecoming game against Habersham Central may be the best chance the Panthers will have this season at ending the state’s second-longest losing streak, now at 21 games.
A chance at exorcising those demons presents itself this Friday on, eerily enough, Halloween night.
With some 19 starters gone from last year’s state playoff squad that thumped the Panthers 41-6 a season ago, the Raiders head into Friday in an unfamiliar position for one of Northeast Georgia’s more storied programs.
Habersham Central (0-8) is the only other Region 8-AAAA team besides Jackson County that has yet to notch their first win of the season. Their most recent defeat came last week to Newton, 35-7.
“I’ll be honest with you, we’re pretty much two teams that are a mirror of each other,” Jackson County head coach Brent Brock explained. “They’ve run into a couple of buzz saws, as we have...it’s going to be a good game. They could have easily won a couple of ball games and...we have had our chances to pull one out too.”
For whatever reason though, Friday night’s opponents have ended up on the short end of the stick so far in 2003. Ironically enough, it was the same team, Eastside, that narrowly escaped with victories against both teams in their best chances for wins. The Eagles knocked off Jackson County by a field goal on Sept. 19, while Habersham Central lost 20-14 on Oct. 3.
But come Friday night, the feeling on both sidelines will be one of anticipation, as both teams look to end their respective losing streaks and feel the satisfaction that comes with a victory.
“I think it’s important any time for a team to get that win and it would be nice to see our kids see the benefits of all the time and hard work that they put in,” Brock explained.
That said though, both coaches understand that they are in the process of rebuilding their programs. But, for the struggling Panthers the case could be made that they are even more in need of a win.
Although Jackson County has made tremendous improvements on the field this season, those looking in on the program may not understand that, without results in the victory column to show for it, according to Brock.
“We don’t want to get used to losing, but at the same time when you look at where this program has been and the strides we have made, it’s hard to measure how far we’ve come unless you’ve been a part of our program,” Brock explained.
One thing that may not play into the Panthers favor is the opposite way the two teams have been starting games of late.
While Jackson County fell behind 23-0 and 29-0 respectively the last two weeks against Heritage and Rockdale County, the Raiders have played well in the opening two quarters of play.
Although their loss to Newton was by 28 points, Habersham Central only trailed by six points at the half.
Of course the other side of that scenario has been the improved play of Jackson County in the second half of their games. On more than one occasion this season the Panthers have made comebacks in the second half to threaten teams.
Above all else though, don’t expect either team to dwell on the outcome of Friday’s game too much.
“If you let the losses get to you and try and get that monkey off your back, that monkey will turn into a gorilla and then an elephant and pretty soon it’s weighing you down, but they understand its not going to be an overnight process.”

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