2021 has been a disruptive year for the Commerce football team thus far. After five weeks, the Tigers have only played three games since one was cancelled and a new opponent was scheduled for a later date. Plus, they're on a two-game losing streak with their last outing being a 27-14 loss at Elbert County.
Now, Commerce has a chance to enter what head coach Mark Hollars calls a "football rhythm." The Tigers have seven-straight weeks of football to play not counting the A-Public State Playoffs.
"Right now we're looking forward to getting in a rhythm of playing," Hollars said. "Over the next seven weeks we won't have a bye week now. We can get in a rhythm. It's hard to believe we've only played three games at this point. The time off has been good, but I think all of want to start playing games. We're excited about playing at home, obviously playing at home means a lot to us. We haven't played at home since week one and that seems like forever ago."
"[Response to the loss] has been very positive. The energy level has been outstanding, I think our seniors have brought good energy. Our young kids are doing a good job, our JV team is playing well right now, they're 3-0. The best thing that can happen to us right now is playing games. We need games. That's how kids grow and develop. Being able to play these games in a row will be good for us. Our kids know what we have to work on and we're working hard at that."
The team Commerce (1-2, 0-0 Region 8-A Public) hopes to start the rhythm against is Mount Paran Christian from Region 7-A Private. The Eagles are a perennial championship contender and they won the A-Private State Championship in 2014. However, Mount Paran is seven years removed from that title and it shows. The Eagles are coming off the worst season in school history, they went 1-7 last year and that includes a 41-9 loss to Commerce.
Hollars, who's North Cobb Christian program played Mount Paran in 2019, noted that the Eagles are leaner this year than what the program is used to. Mount Paran has also made changes on both sides of the ball, adopting a wing-T like offense and dropping the 4-3 defense.
"Mount Paran definitely has a great tradition," Hollars said. "Last year they had a bit of a tough year, but they have some pretty good skill kids. I think they have three or four kids who have come to their school this year that are difference makers. They're a well coached team, they run what I call a fast paced wing-T. I don't think they quite have the fast pace their coaching staff wants yet, it's their first year doing it.
"On defense they've changed recently. They were a 4-3 team forever, this year they've gone to the odd stack. Even last week they made some changes and were in an even front, more of a 6-2 look. They're multiple on defense. I see the strength of their team is with their skill kids. They've got some pretty good athletes at running back, receiver and in their secondary and linebacker corps. They've got some pretty good athletes. They're probably a little bit leaner in their lines of scrimmage than what they traditionally are. Traditionally, they're pretty stout up front."
Though you shouldn't sell Mount Paran (2-2, 0-0 Region 7-A Private) short. The Eagles have made strides, especially with the new offense. Four running backs already have at least 118 yards and they have a wide receiver with 109 receiving yards. The leading rusher is Nick Germain with 246 yards on just 15 carries, good enough for 16.4 yards per carry. He also has a pair of touchdowns. Sam Griffith-Tesch leads Mount Paran with 34 carries. He's picked up 183 rushing yards and two touchdowns this year. Jylan Thomas, Micah Lott and Remington Adams are also factors in the running game.
Mount Paran has a pair of quarterbacks it relies on in Drew Mackendree and Daniel Gray. The duo has combined for 291 yards on 16-of-38 passing with two touchdowns. Both touchdowns were thrown by Gray. Their leading receiver is Trey Jackson with seven catches for 109 yards. Five other targets have at least two catches this season, including Griffith-Tesch.
"When you're playing a wing-T team, you can't focus on all of the misdirection," Hollars said. "You have to do your job and trust your teammates. If we get undisciplined and guys start looking in the backfield and trying to find the football, we're going to be in trouble. That's the whole idea of the wing-T, it's built on misdirection on every play. It's built on the ball being distributed to three or four different people. It's a premium this week that we stay disciplined and do our jobs.
"The players that are supposed to have the fullback trap, they have to trust the guys who have the bucksweep. They'll run what's called counter-criss-cross, a double handoff, you have to read your keys and you have to trust your teammates. Playing good team defense is important. I think one of the key elements of this week is being very physical. We need to establish a physical presence on both sides of the football."
Mount Paran at Commerce
Who: Mount Paran at Commerce (Ray Lamb Field at Tiger Stadium)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: Commerce 1-2; Mount Paran 2-2
Coaches: Mark Hollars, Commerce (first season at Commerce, 1-2; sixth season overall, 31-27); Mitch Jordan, Mount Paran (14th year at Mount Paran, 97-52)
What else: Last year was the first time Commerce and Mount Paran had ever met. The Tigers were victorious 41-9 on route to a Region 8-A Public Championship and a birth in the state quarterfinals... Head coach Mark Hollars is somewhat familiar with Mount Paran from his time at North Cobb Christian. Both schools were in the subdivided Region 6-A Private. However, North Cobb Christian was in Division A, while Mount Paran was in Division B. The two schools did meet in 2018, with Hollars's squad winning 28-10.