WASHINGTON — In a battle of highly-ranked Tigers, Commerce moved a step closer to staking its claim as top cats of the region.
The Commerce Tigers (8-1, 4-0 Region 8-A Public) shut out the Washington-Wilkes Tigers over the final two quarters, while Trey Huff scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 28-17 region road win on Friday (Nov. 13).
“I tell you what, that’s about as good as I’ve been a part of,” Commerce coach Michael Brown said. “Our kids played their tail off. We made a lot of mistakes, but we were able to overcome those mistakes, and effort won the day.”
The win moves No. 4-ranked Commerce into sole possession of first-place in Region 8-A Public, though the Tigers must beat Lincoln County next week (Nov. 20, 8 p.m.) at home to win their first region title since 2003.
“It’s not the end of our journey, but it’s a sweet moment along the way,” Brown said. “The challenge now will be to get re-focused, and move on to the next one. We’re going to enjoy this one for 48 hours, and then we’ll go to work on Lincoln.”
Commerce rushed for 343 yards in Friday's win, led by Sammy Brown’s 117 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries, as the visiting Tigers notched their sixth-straight win. Huff finished with 67 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 15 attempts. Elijah Burns ran for 88 yards on 11 carries.
With Commerce trailing No. 8-ranked Washington-Wilkes 17-14 in the fourth quarter, Huff pushed into the end zone from two yards out to give the Tigers a 21-17 lead with 10:13 left in the game. Huff gave Commerce a two-possession lead with a 1-yard score — set up by a 19-yard run from the quarterback – with 5:14 left.
"Nobody in that locker room thought we were going to lose this game," said Tiger senior Gray Holbrook, who finished with a team-high nine tackles while forcing and recovering a fumble. "At halftime we were down, and we got in here and regrouped and knew what we had to do in the second half, and we did it. I couldn't be more proud of my team."
Commerce had surrendered all 17 of Washington-Wilkes' points in the second-quarter as the Tigers saw a 14-0 lead vanish.
Washington-Wilkes (7-1, 3-1 Region 8-A Public) had all the momentum in the third quarter with the lead and ball inside Commerce’s 35, but the Tigers’ defense and special teams helped turn the game.
First, Holbrook delivered a monster hit to jar the ball loose from Washington-Wilkes running back Zaikous Jackson, forcing a drive-stopping turnover.
“That’s huge, and that’s a senior leader on our football team stepping up and making a play,” Brown said.
Bo Childers later pinned Washington-Wilkes on its own 3 with a well-placed punt. The Tiger defense responded with a three-and-out, keyed by a third-down pass break-up from Creed Dunbar. The resulting punt set up Commerce in prime field position at Washington-Wilkes’ 46. The Tigers scored the go-ahead touchdown seven plays later on Huff’s 2-yard run.
Commerce’s defense then forced another three-and-out — with Dreylan Martin breaking up a third-down pass — and the Tigers put the game away with an eight-play scoring drive, capped by Huff’s 1-yard score.
Brown pointed to his team's overall effort.
“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “I saw a lot of kids playing as hard as they could possibly play tonight, and I’m just as proud as I could be.”
While Commerce was strong late, it was also impressive early on.
The Tigers led 14-0 early in the second quarter after a 10-yard touchdown from Sammy Brown in the first quarter and a 2-yard touchdown run from Huff early in the second quarter. Huff's score was set up by a 42-yard run by Burns.
But Washington-Wilkes answered with its run of 17 straight points, starting with a 41-yard touchdown run from Corey Danner, followed by a 3-yard scoring run from Dalen Cobb on a quarterback keeper. Washington-Wilkes then grabbed the lead at the half after forcing a Tiger turnover with 58 seconds left and driving 39 yards for a 21-yard Eduardo Sandoval field goal as time expired.
But those were the final points Washington-Wilkes would score.
"We just felt like we had relaxed there before the half," Brown said. "We played a quarter and a half of really good football, and then we just relaxed. We challenged our guys at halftime to come out and fight like their life's on the line, and they did."
Now, all attention turns to next week with a region title on the line against Lincoln County (6-3, 3-1 Region 8-A Public), which the Tigers have not beaten since 2002.
“We’ve got one more to go, so that’s another big one, another tough one,” Brown said.
This and That
Gray Holbrook said that a blitz was dialed up for him on his third-quarter hit that dislodged the football from Washington-Wilkes' Zaikous Jackson, creating a momentum-changing turnover. “The coach gave me a blitz and I knew I needed to make a play for my team,” Holbrook said. “I thought the quarterback gave it and then I hit the running back and I felt the ball on the ground, and I just jumped on it.” It was a big play for Holbrook, who had missed the first four games of the season with an arm laceration. “I’m proud of him and the leadership he’s shown, and all these seniors,” Commerce coach Michael Brown said. ... Commerce place kicker Eryck Diaz went 4-for-4 on PATs, while Bo Childers’ third-quarter punt pinned Washington-Wilkes near its goal line, ultimately yielding favorable field position — after Washington-Wilkes failed to move the ball — for Commerce’s third touchdown drive of the night. “That (punt) was a huge play and the kicking game was big for us,” Brown said. “We had a couple of kicks that didn’t go into the end zone, and typically those don’t turn out well, but we were able to cover the kickoffs. Just a great all-round team effort by everyone.” … The Tigers had four players rush for over 60 yards — Sammy Brown (117), Elijah Burns (88), Trey Huff (67) and Dreylan Martin (61) … Commerce had 14 first downs compared to just five for Washington-Wilkes … It was a night for penalties on both sides as the teams combined for 19 infractions for 219 yards. Washington-Wilkes committed 11 penalties for 131 yards, while Commerce was flagged eight times for 88 yards ... With the victory, the Tigers have won at least eight games for the seventh consecutive season.