The old adage of there's a first time for everything was true last Friday (Oct. 18) in Commerce.
In seven games, Commerce had never lost to Hebron Christian Academy. The eighth game Friday night didn't yield the same outcome as the Lions (5-2, 3-0 Region 8-A North) pulled off the road upset in Commerce, downing the Tigers 21-7. The Tigers (5-2, 2-1) host Towns County this Friday (Oct. 25).
The Tigers' potent rushing attack was grounded by the Lions' defense. Commerce rushed for only 110 yards on 33 carries.
Sam Roach led the Tigers with 62 rushing yards on 18 carries. The Tigers rushed for 76 yards in the first half and only 34 in the second half.
Commerce finished the game with 169 total yards as quarterback Nate Ray passed for 59 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception.
TJ Trudnak had one catch for 28 yards and the Tigers' lone score. Tyleon Brock had one catch for 22 yards.
Hebron Christian quarterback Colten Gauthier went 22-of-30 through the air for 223 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Gauthier found four different receivers in the win, led by Justin Peavy's 11-catch, 109-yard performance. Donnovan Moorer caught three passes for 67 yards and Karim Muhammad caught four passes for 31 yards and one touchdown.
The Lions scored two rushing touchdowns: Gauthier and Demetrius Rogers. Moorer led the team in rushing with 46 yards on eight carries.
The game started out with a bang for both the Tigers' offense and defense. After the Lions received the opening kickoff, the Commerce defense forced a turnover on downs after a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak came up short, giving the offense a short field.
Two plays later, the offense rewarded the defense's effort when Ray found Trudnak down the middle of the field for a 28-yard touchdown strike. After the PAT, the Tigers led 7-0 with 9:47 left in the first quarter.
"Our defensive staff did a great job of preparing our kids," head coach Michael Brown said. "We really had a great game plan, and the way our kids played on that side of that ball, it really gave us a chance to be in the game until late in the fourth quarter."
The Lions responded on the ensuing drive, picking up three first downs along the way. The drive ended when Gauthier hit tip-toeing Muhammad in the back of the end zone to cap off an eight-play drive. The score was 7-7 with 5:28 left in the first quarter.
On the Tigers' next drive, Roach took over, carrying the ball five times in eight plays including four straight to open the drive. After three first downs, a pitch to the left wound up on the ground and scooped up by Hebron's JT Cornett, who returned it to the Tigers' 19-yard line.
Three plays later, Gauthier scored a 1-yard touchdown via the quarterback to sneak to give the Lions the go-ahead score with 11:56 left in the second quarter, 14-7.
The Tigers' next drive, like the one before, looked promising including two first downs picked up on fourth down to keep the drive alive. But the drive ended when Ray's pass intended for Jake Frates was intercepted in the front of the end zone by a leaping Hebron defender.
"The biggest problem and issue that I saw from Friday night was the head coach," Brown said. "The lack of preparedness on the offensive side, which 100 percent falls on me. We had some things that we were trying to do that weren't very effective.
"We had some, what we thought were answers to some of the things that Hebron was doing to defend us, that turned out to be the wrong answers."
With the Lions driving after the turnover, a holding call stalled momentum and eventually led to fourth-and-9, which the Lions went for. But they failed to convert thanks to a Conner Kyle sack on Gauthier.
The Tigers trailed 14-7 at the break.
The second half was a slow start for the Tigers. The offense went three-and-out the first three possessions.
"I thought the second-half play-calling on my part was about as bad as it could get," Brown said. "So, I don't see any major issues than a poor performance on my part."
The Lions didn't fair any better on their first two possession, which included a dropped fourth-down pass and a Brock interception of Gauthier.
But it was the Lions' third possession that put the game away. The Lions got the ball back with under a minute left in the third quarter and the drive lasted until the 6:58 mark in the fourth quarter. Gauthier hit seven-straight passes on the drive. The drive ended when Rogers bounced his way into the end zone on a 7-yard touchdown run to push the Hebron lead to 21-7.
After picking up a fourth-and-5 with an 8-yard Brock run, the Tigers' chances of winning ended on a fourth-and-4 attempt when Roach was stopped just short of the line to gain.