WINDER – Mark Hollars’ head coaching debut at Commerce nearly ended in a victory, but a costly penalty in the final minute prevented the Tigers from leaving Apalachee with a win in the preseason scrimmage.
Commerce and Apalachee were knotted at 14-14 when the Tigers recovered a fumble at their own 33-yard line with 1:27 left in the scrimmage. A few big runs, including a long rumble up the middle by Tysean Wiggins, put the Tigers just outside of field goal range with just under a minute left. However, a block in the back penalty on the next play pushed Commerce back to midfield.
Without any timeouts, Commerce’s JV squad was unable to mount a final offensive and the game ended with a 14-14 tie.
Given the game was a scrimmage against a AAAAA opponent, Hollars didn’t dwell on the result.
“The best thing about tonight is that both teams came out healthy,” he said. “That’s always important when you’re in a scrimmage. There’s a lot of things we need to do to get better, but there’s a lot of things we can build off of.
“The biggest growth you’re going to see during the season is during those first three weeks. This was our first chance to go out there against somebody else. We’ve only been in pads for four days. I know our kids understand we need to be more disciplined, we just have to keep getting better each day, but that’s what scrimmages are for.”
Commerce started very slow on offense and sloppy on defense. On the second play from scrimmage, Dreylan Martin lost seven yards and didn’t even have a chance to turn upfield. After punting the ball to Apalachee, the Tigers gave up two 14-yard runs. The Wildcats bailed out Commerce with a pair of fumbles within the next three snaps.
After another Tigers three-and-out, Apalachee went back on the attack, driving all the way to Commerce’s 21-yard-line before a false start penalty and a third fumble. The Wildcats recovered the ball but lost 13 yards right before the end of the first quarter.
Things went from good-to-great for Commerce when Jabari Little intercepted a rainbow pass from Apalachee quarterback Howard Holloway. Little returned the ball to the Tigers’ 28-yard-line and Commerce needed just three plays to reach Apalachee territory.
Martin opened the drive with runs of 10 and 15 yards. Kemanni Horne followed with a physical 18-yard run up the middle of the field. Martin reached the end zone three plays later on a 19-yard pass from Landon Bunn across the middle, giving Commerce a 7-0 lead 8:21 left in the second quarter.
Give them credit, in the first two drives I felt [Apalachee] controlled the line of scrimmage with their blitzing,” Hollars said. “Our kids were able to make some small adjustments, they handled it really well. Our kids got out on the perimeter and that opened everything up.
Apalachee went back to work on its next drive, picking up 54 yards in its first two plays. The Wildcats kept from making the mistakes that killed their first two possessions and Holloway ended the drive with a touchdown on a quarterback sneak. The score tied the game 7-7 with 5:18 left until halftime.
The Wildcats had a chance to take the lead going into the locker rooms after another Commerce punt, but they missed a 42-yard field goal wide right with less than a minute on the clock. They made up for that blunder with a long touchdown run by Colby Sikes early in the third quarter to take a 14-7 lead.
The Tigers’ next possession was classic Commerce football, covering 75 yards in eight minutes. Martin ended the drive with a 14-yard run up the gut to tie the game 14-14 with 2:26 left in the third quarter.
The junior varsity squads took over in the fourth quarter, but neither could do much on offense. Commerce gave the ball away on a fumble on its first JV possession, but Apalachee answered with a failed fourth-down conversion. The roles reversed on each team’s next possession.
Aside from the game itself, Hollars praised the energy brought by the Commerce team and the fans that made the trip.
“It’s truly an honor to be the head coach here because of the way these kids love football and the way the community loves football,” he said. “As a coach, what you want is kids who give you energy because they come every day and work. Our kids do that.
“We have a saying, ‘give your all for Commerce.’ I think our kids did that. We just have to get a little more disciplined and we have to clean some things up. We will, I know our kids will.”
Commerce takes this Friday off before starting the regular season on August 20 at home against Banks County.