When Commerce’s Sam Roach scored his third touchdown of the second half with 16 seconds left during Friday night’s game vs. George Walton, the Tigers were an extra point away from erasing a 21-0 deficit.
But the block extra-point attempt that followed turned out to be a blessing for Commerce as the Bulldogs were called offsides, moving the ball to the 1-yard line. With his team riding a second-half tidal wave of momentum, Commerce head coach Michael Brown sent his offense back on the field to go for the 2-point conversion and the win.
The decision was the right one as Roach was able to break the goal line for the conversion to help complete one of the biggest comebacks in Tigers’ history as Commerce defeated George Walton 22-21 to close out the 2019 regular season.
Commerce (8-2) scored all three touchdowns in the final 12:02 of the win.
“It was kind of like my heart had stopped for a little bit,” Roach said on waiting to see if his 2-point conversion run was good. “Then, when I saw (the referee’s) hands go up, it was something special.”
Roach led the Tigers’ offense, rushing for 115 yards on 27 carries. He also scored all three Commerce touchdowns plus the 2-point conversion. He had 111 yards in the second half alone to go with the three scores.
“It felt like it was happening, it was God’s-given plan that it was going to happen,” Roach said.
Roach added the team “slopped” around in the first half. Then, Brown told the team at halftime what to adjust, and adjust they did.
“We prevailed, and we made history,” Roach said. “It was a nail-biter. Coach Brown says the right things. This group of seniors is a great group of seniors, and we’ve got a lot of young guys who do what they’re supposed to do. Wouldn’t trade this team for the world, man.”
In the first half, the Tigers’ offense saw drives end in a fumble and three punts. The team totaled only 62 yards and trailed 21-0.
The second half was a different story. The Tigers scored touchdowns on all three possessions and had 264 yards.
Nate Ray said that even when they were trailing, the team was convinced it could still pull off the win.
“We got that last touchdown, fortunately we had that penalty that helped us a lot,” Ray said. “And then, coach Brown was just like, ‘Heck, why not go for it.’ We just called the play, ran it in and Sam runs it in for us.”
Ray said it was stressful during the final drive as the clock was working against the Tigers.
“Time was running out, but luckily we had enough. We had enough time,” Ray said. “I knew if we were getting the play off we were going to score. I knew we were going to get in.”
Ray said the comeback showed the “character” of the team.
“It shows that we still have heart, no matter what,” Ray said. “Even if we were sloppy at the beginning, we knew that we were going to come out victorious. The character and the love and the brotherhood that we have and that we share is strong with this team. Everybody just witnessed that tonight.”
Brown credited George Walton and its game plan against his squad.
“Before we knew what was going on, we were (down) 21-0,” he said. “Hats off to them. We challenged our kids at halftime. We did not play very good in the first half at all, on either side of the ball. But we challenged our kids and really challenged the character of this team, and they showed what kind of character we had in the second half.”
Brown said coming back from 21-0 wasn’t a good spot to play from.
“Our kids really battled their way back and gave ourselves a chance at the end,” he said. “When they jumped offsides on the extra point, I could look into the eyes of our kids and tell we were going to get that ball in somehow. So, I trust those seniors and I trust our kids, and they got it done.”
He added it was a “great game.”
After Commerce fumbled on the game’s opening drive, the Bulldogs took possession and wasted little time in finding the end zone. Jake Whitten scored on a 56-yard run with 9:11 left in the first quarter to put the Bulldogs ahead 7-0.
On the next possession, George Walton grinded out the clock, going 85 yards in 11 plays. Whitten, again, found the end zone, this time from four yards away to push the lead to 14-0 with 2:49 left in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs’ third drive was their most impressive of the game. After a punt put the offense at the 8-yard line, the Bulldogs strung together a 15-play, 92-yard drive. Like Roach, Whitten got his hat trick, plunging in on a 1-yard run to put the Bulldogs ahead 21-0. The score remained the same at intermission.
George Walton got the ball to start the second half, and after getting the ball to the 48-yard line, the momentum of the game took a shift as a false start, followed by a sack from Chauncey Jackson, put the Bulldogs in third-and-long, and they were forced into their first punt of the game.
When the Tigers took over, the ball went to Roach six-straight plays to start their first drive of the second half. After overcoming a holding call, and a personal-foul penalty on back-to-back plays, Roach got the ball across the goal line with two seconds left in the third quarter to trim the deficit to 21-7.
The Bulldogs were poised to respond with points on their next drive as Colby Bell found Thomas Jones III for 46 yards. Then, Whitten ran six yards down to the Tigers’ 6-yard line, but the Commerce defense didn’t bend another yard and forced a field-goal attempt. The 23-yard try wasn’t successful, and Commerce had the ball back with 7:42.
The Tigers needed 14 plays to cut into the deficit again, and two runs of 13 and 14 yards, respectively, from Michael Sherman and Daniel Wilson helped keep the drive going. The drive ended with three-straight runs from Roach including the 1-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14 with 3:33 left in the game.
After not recovering the onside-kick attempt, the Tigers had only one timeout left, and one George Walton first down could’ve sealed the game. But on a second-and-10 run with 2:36 left, Bryson Williams ran out of bounds, which stopped the clock, serving as a timeout for Commerce.
The Tigers’ defense held up on third down and forced the Bulldogs to punt. The game-winning drive started at the Tigers’ 22-yard line with just over two minutes left to play. After attempting a pass on first down, the Tigers stayed true to the ground game, which allowed Wilson to pick up big chunks of yards on two plays (21, 17).
The final 19 yards, though, were saved for Roach who ended the drive with a 2-yard run into the end zone with 16 seconds left. After the blocked extra point turned into an offsides penalty, the Tigers went for the 2-point conversion, which Roach converted from a yard away to give the Tigers the win.