The Commerce football team opens the A Public State Playoffs on the road this Saturday (Nov. 13) against Bowdon, the champions of Region 6-A Public.
The Red Devils won their 18th region title this year, and they’re on the hunt for their third state championship. Bowdon last won a state title in 1992.
None of that should intimidate Commerce (6-4, 3-2 Region 8-A Public) despite entering the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. The Tigers are also looking for their third state crown, and they’ve already defeated one region champ this season. Commerce suffocated Region 8-A Public champs Washington-Wilkes on Oct. 29.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to continue to play football,” said first-year head coach Mark Hollars. “I think we take a lot of pride here. We’re trying to send our seniors out the right way. We want to be playing football for the seniors for a lot longer.
“We’re not ready to stop playing football. We’re excited about the opportunity this week to go on the road to play a good football team.”
Bowdon (9-1, 5-0 Region 6-A Public) is a very similar team to Washington-Wilkes. The Red Devils field a proficient, up-tempo passing attack led by quarterback Robert McNeal. The junior has 1,617 yards on 80-of-127 passing with a whopping 17 touchdowns. Most impressive is his lack of turnovers, McNeal has only thrown one interception this season. He also has 652 rushing yards with nine more touchdowns.
McNeal spreads the wealth in Bowdon’s offense. Freshman running back Luke Windom leads the Red Devils with 930 rushing yards with seven touchdowns. Fellow running back senior Tanner Langley adds 239 yards with eight touchdowns, he’s also Bowdon’s leading receiver with 22 catches for 452 yards and four touchdowns.
Bolstering Bowdon’s passing game are senior receivers Andrew Hopson and Gage Stephens. Hopson has 18 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns, while Stephens has 319 yards and six touchdowns on 15 catches.
“They are very explosive on offense,” Hollars said. “Their quarterback is extremely athletic. He can hurt you with his feet and his arm. He throws the ball deep well. If you give him time in the pocket, he throws the ball underneath well. He’s a very good scrambler and an excellent athlete.
“He’s got a corps of receivers he can throw the ball to and really good running backs. Their offense is really explosive, very similar to what we saw with Washington-Wilkes.”
Complimenting Bowdon’s offense is a defense that is allowing just 11.6 points per game. That average drops to 9.6 points per game in region play. The Red Devil defense terrorizes opposing offenses with 17 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss.
“Defensively, they’re always stout upfront,” he said. “They’re a base 4-4 team and they play a lot of man coverage. We’re going to do what we do, we know how important it is to run the football. That’s who we are…
“It’ll be a good test for us, a good challenge. We feel like our region schedule has prepared us for games like this. We’ve faced some really good defenses throughout the year.”
Commerce is going to apply the same formula against Bowdon that it used to defeat Washington-Wilkes. Keeping Bowdon’s high-powered offense on the sidelines is the key to winning.
Against Washington-Wilkes, the Tiger defense was only on the field for 29 plays. The offense maintained possession and went on long, time-consuming touchdown drives. The Commerce offense scored points while Washington-Wilkes’ offense watched helplessly on the sideline.
“You can’t just possess it, you have to finish,” he said. “It’s really important that you finish. That will be a big emphasis for us this week.”
Commerce at Bowdon
What: Commerce at Bowdon (Warren P. Sewell Field)
When: Saturday, 7:00
Records: Commerce 6-4; Bowdon 9-1
Coaches: Mark Hollars, Commerce (first year at Commerce, 6-4; sixth year overall, 36-29); Richard Fendley Jr., Bowdon (fourth year at Bowdon, 25-18; sixth year overall 27-36)
What else: This is Commerce’s first game against Bowdon since 2002, but Hollars is very familiar with the Red Devils. As head coach of North Cobb Christian, he coached against Bowden every year from 2016-to-2020. He went 3-2 against the Red Devils in that span… Commerce defeated Bowdon 41-22 in the second round of the 2002 state playoffs.