Commerce didn’t let an early misstep ruin senior night.
The Tigers faced a 7-0 first-quarter deficit after Union County returned a fumble 40 yards, but answered with touchdowns on their next four possessions en route to a 32-14 win Friday (Sept. 11) over the visiting Panthers.
Freshman Sammy Brown ran for a 70-yard touchdown and caught a 72-yard touchdown pass from Trey Huff, and Dreylan Martin scored two touchdowns as the Tigers improved to 2-0. Tyelon Brock, back from injury, also found the end zone.
Still, coach Michael Brown said his team needs to play more efficiently.
“We’ve got too many busted assignments,” he said. “I didn’t do a very good job tonight (Friday). I felt like I was off, just from the get-go really. I felt like we were late coming down the hill (before the game) … I didn’t do a very good job tonight managing the game. Can’t blame the kids for that. I’ve got to do a better job.”
Commerce bulldozed its way to 395 rushing yards in the win, led by Martin who ran for 106 yards on 15 carries while Huff rushed for 94 yards on 14 attempts. Huff also was 2-of-4 passing for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Brock finished with 81 yards on the ground on nine attempts after missing last week's game with Banks County, while Sammy Brown ran for 80 yards on just five attempts while racking up 152 total yards.
The Tigers finished with 510 yards of total offense.
Commerce’s defense generally handled Union County’s pass-heavy spread attack, allowing the Panthers just one offensive touchdown, which came with two minutes left in the first half. Huff and Creed Dunbar had an interception each.
“I thought they played good for the most part,” Brown said of the defense. “They got tired right there before the half, and that’s going to happen on hot nights like tonight. We’re playing a lot of kids both ways. But all in all, I thought they played pretty good.”
Moving up its senior night celebration to its first home game (due to the uncertainty of the football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic), Commerce found itself trailing just over six minutes into the game. Union County’s Elijah Helton scooped a Tiger fumble and took it 40 yards for a score at the 5:53 mark in the first quarter.
The Tigers quickly answered, though, with Sammy Brown taking an option pitch on the third play of the subsequent drive and racing past two defenders with angles on him for a 70-yard score. But a missed PAT kept the score 7-6. The Tigers missed three PATs and had a field goal blocked in the win.
Commerce took the lead with 11:58 left in the second quarter when Martin scored on a one-yard run to put the Tigers ahead 12-7. Martin keyed the drive, which spanned seven plays and 81 yards, with a 30-yard run.
The Tigers then put together an 11-play, 81 yard drive, capped with a five-yard score from Martin, to move the score to 18-7 with 6:03 left in the second quarter.
Union County’s offense mounted its lone scoring drive with a 11-play march that ended with Union County’s Carson Walker catching a 20-yard touchdown pass on third-and 20, cutting the lead to 18-14 with 2:04 left before halftime.
But Commerce stole the momentum back when Huff threw the ball to an open Sammy Brown, who leaked out of the backfield, for a 72-yard touchdown with 1:05 left in the half, putting the Tigers ahead 25-14.
“That was really big,” coach Brown said. “We knew we had a chance to hit a big play on that just by the way they were lining up. Trey made a good throw, Sammy made a good catch and that was big for us.”
After failing to score on its first two drives of the second half, Commerce put the game away on its third possession, moving 65 yards on nine plays and scoring on a 14-yard run from Brock to move the score to 32-14 with 11:01 left in the game.
“We needed that,” Brown said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids playing for us right now, especially at some key positions, so we needed to have a tight game like we did tonight (Friday) to develop our football team and grow up a little bit, and I think we did.”
Commerce used the final minutes of the victory to play some of the program’s younger players.
“We wanted to get some kids in there and get some reps and try to develop them as well and try to run as many of them in as we can, and that’s what we did,” Brown said.
The Tigers defeated what Brown praised as a quality Union County football program. The Panthers are coming off a 10-win season in 2019 and have averaged 8.5 wins over the past six seasons.
“A very good program,” Brown said. “When I say program, I mean a team that wins year-in and year-out. The kids know how to win. They’re tough. They compete. They execute their offense well. This is a good football team from Union County, and they’re going to win a lot of ball games this year.”
The Tigers now face a major non-region showdown next week when it faces former region opponent Athens Academy on the road Friday (Sept. 18).