Last Friday, the Commerce Tigers (3-2) came out on top in their first region 8-A matchup of the season. Two fourth-quarter interceptions and a long field goal propelled Tigers past George Walton Academy, 31-21.
The Tigers are 1-0 in region play heading into an away contest Friday with a 2-3 (0-1) Athens Christian team. The Tigers lead the Eagles 6-1 in their short series, but Athens Christian took the most recent contest, upsetting the Tigers at home 19-14, last year.
Head coach Michael Brown expects a stout Eagle offense will test the Tigers’ physically.
“With Athens Christian, you are preparing for a four-quarter game,” said Brown. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Eagle head coach) Steve Brooks. I think he does a great job down there. They are going to play tough and be hard-nosed. It’s going to be a tough game.”
The Tiger defense gave up 220 rushing yards to George Walton’s highly recruited running back Stanley Williams, but was able to make plays when it counted – forcing two turnovers and making third-down stops. Commerce will again face a running game with plenty of speedy backs. But Brown noted that the key to stopping Athens Christian’s ground game will be discipline and recognition.
“They have really good athletes at the skill positions and they give you a lot of different formations and motion,” Brown added. “More than anything, you have to prepare your kids to be ready for all of that.”
Commerce’s offense tallied arguably its best game of the season on paper last week, putting up 351 yards of total offense. Brown attributed some of that success to the improved play of his offensive line.
“(The offensive line) picked up what they were doing and played a complete game for the first time this season,” Brown said. “I felt like some of those guys were playing up to their potential but not all of them. We took a big step towards all of them playing like they should play.”
The offensive line’s production may have been a factor the monster night Chance McClure had as the Tigers’ full back.
McClure ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
Brown said that there was no predesigned plan to get McClure more involved in the run game. Instead, McClure’s heavy workload came as a result of how he was playing and George Walton’s defensive schemes.
“We take what the defense gives us,” Brown said. “Chance ran hard and tough – more like we think he is capable of. But more or less, we were just taking what the defense was doing. It just meant that the fullback was going to get more carries.”
The win over the Bulldogs was sophomore quarterback Caleb Brook’s first as a starter. And while Brooks performance wasn’t flashy on paper, he ran the Tiger offense effectively and helped to keep several long drives going as a game manager. Brooks also completed two passes for 49 yards and rushed for 39.
Brooks will get the shot to improve his record as senior quarterback Drew Whitfield remains out with a concussion.
Brown doesn’t know an exact timetable on Whitfield’s return, but it will likely be at least a couple more weeks before he is cleared to play.
“I’m hoping that he’s progressed to the point that he can come out in the next week or two,” said Brown. “We just have to let the doctors make the calls. Ultimately it’s their decision. There’s nothing we can do to speed it up.”
If the Tigers’ can pull off a win on Friday, they would increase their chances at a playoff berth as one of the top-16 teams in the Class A power rankings. The GHSA currently has Commerce ranked in the 13th spot (as of Sept. 24).
George Walton recap
Commerce didn’t play a flawless game last Friday night when the Tigers hosted George Walton Academy in their first region game of the season. However, when the game was on the line, the Tigers made the plays necessary to come away with a victory.
After racking up 20 yards on their first three plays, the Tigers were derailed by a familiar circumstance — a fumble on their own 40-yard line.
But after a George Walton three-and-out, the Tigers strung together a 14-play 93-yard drive capped by a 9-yard scoring run by McClure.
George Walton wasted no time in responding as Stanley Williams broke a 64-yard touchdown run on the second play of the following Bulldog drive.
After trading punts, the Commerce offense remained resilient, once again marching the length of the field before Jamir Walton punched through for a nine-yard Tiger score.
George Walton’s next possession nearly mirrored its first, with Stanley Williams breaking another long run on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage – this time for 63 yards.
Coming out of halftime with the score tied at 14, the Bulldogs were finally forced to put a drive together, running nine plays before Williams broke another scoring run for 31 yards.
The Tiger offense immediately went back to its ground-and-pound mentality on the ensuing drive, taking the ball 80 yards on 14 plays. A 16-yard touchdown run by McClure tied the game at 21.
On their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs began marching towards what looked like another score before Grant Mayberry picked off a George Walton pass on the Commerce 20-yard line, and returned it 74 yards before being tackled near the goal line. The Tigers’ capitalized on the turnover and excellent field position as Caleb Brooks ran in for a two-yard score to put the Tigers up 28-21.
A three-and-out forced George Walton to punt to Commerce. The Tigers drove the ball into their own territory where they faced a fourth down as time ticked away. The Commerce coaching staff decided to give Nahum Mendoza a chance to put the game away as he lined up for a 37-yard field goal – the longest of his career. The kick sailed straight through the uprights with room to spare and sealed a 31-21 Commerce victory.
The Bulldogs did have one more frantic drive, but it was cut short when Cole Chancey pulled down another Tiger interception.
“As far as the effort goes, I think the team played as hard as they could,” said Brown.
“It wasn’t just the offensive line. There were a lot of guys on both sides of the ball just playing their hearts out and making big plays at critical times. It really was a team effort.”
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The author does not allow comments to this entry