The Commerce football team takes a break from Region 8-A Public play this week to renew an old rivalry with Franklin County. The Tigers and Lions played every year from 1996-to-2011, but they haven’t played since.
Franklin County (3-3, 0-2 Region 8-AAA) is entering the game on a two-game losing streak. The Lions had no problems scoring points during their first four games of the year, averaging 28.25 points per game. However, The Lions haven’t scored a point since Sept. 17. They lost their last two games to Hart County and Stephens County by 37-0 scores.
It’s worth noting that Hart County and Stephens County are two of the best teams Class AAA has to offer, and the Bulldogs are ranked No. 9 in the state.
“They’re a good football team,” said head coach Mark Hollars. “On offense, they are very similar to us, they’re going to run the ball first. They’re very physical upfront, they’re getting the ball to their tailback as much as they can. They’ll spread you out occasionally and the main reason they spread you out is to run the quarterback. He’s been really good, he’s extended plays and made a lot of big plays for them.
“Defensively, same thing, they’re a lot like us. We run similar offenses and similar defenses. They’re very physical on defense as well. I think they’re playing pretty good football. They’re better than their record indicates, that’s for sure.”
The Lions run a power-I offense and they hit you with a heavy dose of Micah Blackwell. The senior running back has 584 yards with five touchdowns this year. He’s not alone in the running game though. Fellow seniors Charles Ware and Deven Banks have 151 yards and 133 yards respectively. Senior quarterback Chris Goode has 264 yards and four touchdowns. Goode also has 246 passing yards on an efficient 19-of-36 completion ratio. He’s also thrown a pair of touchdowns.
“It’s mainly from the same position, but they rotate it around,” Hollars said. “They’ve got some running backs that you really have to contain. If you give them a crack, they’ll go. They’re very athletic, skilled running backs and hard runners.
“Swarming to the ball on defense will be a premium his week. You really have to make sure everyone is pursuing to the football and you have to make sure you’re taking the right angles.”
TIGERS BACK ON TRACK
This Friday (Oct. 15) was originally an off night for the Tigers. The matchup with Franklin County was scheduled back in September after the Tigers had to cancel their game against Athens Academy.
Commerce (4-2, 2-0 Region 8-A Public) only played four games in the first six weeks of the season, and Hollars believed it was important for his team to get into a “football rhythm.”
The Tigers have been able to do that over the last three weeks and the proof is in the pudding. Commerce went 1-2 and averaged just 10.66 points across its first three games. The Tigers have completely turned the offense around since then. They’re averaging 27.66 points over their last three games and are on a three-game winning streak.
“We’ve gotten better here,” he said. “I think we’ve found our identity on offense… We’re able to get the ball to our playmakers right now. Malachi Shockey has done a great job out of the backfield blocking for those guys. Our receiving corps has done a good job blocking.
“I think we’re finding our identity. There’s still a lot of things to improve on. Defensively we’ve kind of been a bend but don’t break team. We’re not where we want to be yet on either side of the ball, there’s still room for growth and improvement. That’s what we’re really stressing with the kids right now.”
A “football rhythm” isn’t the only catalyst for Commerce’s improvements on offense. Hollars decided to change the offense after the loss to Elbert County. Out with the flexbone triple-option, in with an I-formation, downhill rushing attack. Senior running back Dreylan Martin moved to fullback and freshman Jaiden Daniels took over starting tailback duties.
The move was certainly a risk for Hollars and the Tigers as the flexbone has been a staple of Commerce football. The returning Commerce players were excited that Hollars chose to keep the flexbone offense when he became head coach. But according to Hollars, installing a new offense was an easy sell for the players.
“It wasn’t hard at all,” he said. “The coaches have been great, the kids have been great. We have common goals. The kids see that what we’re doing is working best for them. We’re just playing for each other right now too. It’s so important in a team that you understand your role. Not everybody is going to get the ball. We have a lot of unselfish guys that are stepping up to block for their brothers. They’re really working hard for each other.
“That’s the key to football. You have to have common goals. If you have common goals, and no one cares who gets the credit, you can accomplish anything and can handle new offenses and new wrinkles.”
Martin reflected on the team’s attitude towards the changes on offense.
“Coach told us he was going against his beliefs by changing the offense up,” Martin said. “He just wanted to give us something that fits us that we could execute better than what we ran before. It’s worked, we’ve bought into it. Now we firmly believe it can’t be stopped and it won’t be stopped. We’re going to keep mowing down the yards.
“We have 11 guys on the offense committed to each other, committed to getting their job done for their brother. We’ve got some crazy talent in the backfield. You can’t forget about our amazing offensive line that gets it done for us each and every day.”
Since making the switch, Commerce has gained at least 300 rushing yards each night. Daniels has exceeded 200 yards twice and Martin has surpassed 100 yards twice. Hollars explains what makes the new offense so compatible with the skill players Commerce has on offense.
“I think we’ve found our identity, we found things our kids can do well,” he said. “Our kids have pretty good vision from being back there in the deeper sets. We’re just blocking really well right now. It’s pretty simple, we’re able to get off the ball and get after people. We’re trying to use the skills our guys have, we’re trying to adjust our offense to meet our kids’ skill sets.”
Franklin County at Commerce
Who: Franklin County at Commerce (Ray Lamb Field at Tiger Stadium)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: Commerce 4-2; Franklin County 3-3
Coaches: Mark Hollars, Commerce (first season at Commerce, 4-2; sixth season overall, 34-27); Parker Martin, Franklin County (first season at Franklin County, 3-3)
What else: Commerce leads the all-time series with Franklin County 17-9, but the Lions defeated the Tigers six times between 2004 and 2010. The two schools separated by just 22 miles played 22 times from 1982-to-2011, including every year from 1996-to-2011. Despite that history, Commerce and Franklin County have not played since the Tigers’ 10-7 victory in 2011.