As Commerce coach Michael Brown points out, he and his team weren’t even sure back in the summer if they’d get to a Game 10 this year with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening the season.
Well, the Tigers have reached Game 10, and it’s quite meaningful.
No. 4-ranked Commerce (8-1, 4-0 Region 8-A Public) will host Lincoln County (6-3, 3-1 Region 8-A Public) Friday (Nov. 20, 8 p.m.) with a region title on the line. The Tigers haven’t won a region championship since 2003.
“So, we’re just blessed to be in this position,” said Brown, who earned his 70th coaching win last week. “We’re very thankful, and hopefully, we’ll go out and do what we can to make it a good night.”
While Commerce hasn’t claimed a region title in 17 years, it can secure the 8-A Public championship with a victory Friday. Should Lincoln County win and force a three-way tie for first place, the region champion would be determined by point differential throughout the entire region season.
“I want to continue to focus on us,” Brown said. “They (the players) are not oblivious to the fact that there’s potentially a region championship on the line, but we’re not going harp on that as much as we are that need to come back and work on Commerce.”
The Tigers put themselves in this position with a 28-17 win last Friday (Nov. 13) over Washington-Wilkes in a game in which Brown said his team played well for the majority of the night.
“I thought that we played about three and a half quarters of really good football (last Friday), so we’ve still got improvement to make,” he said. “So, I hope that the message that we get across to the kids is keep focusing on us, and keep living and dying by the process that we established in week one.”
As for this week’s game, Brown said Lincoln County will be athletic, talented and similar in many ways to Washington-Wilkes. But major difference, though, is on offense, where the Red Devils are satisfied to run the ball, grind out first downs and drain the clock.
The Red Devils’ ground-and-pound Wing-T offense showcases multiple sets and multiple ways to run the same play.
“They know what they’re doing running that offense, and whatever you try to do to stop them, they’ve got an answer for that,” Brown said.
The coach said he sees this game being determined in the trenches “and those individual battles that go on every play.”
“They’re going to matter tremendously this week,” Brown said.
Defensively, the Red Devils are surrendering 19 points per game.
“Lincoln County is always good on defense,” Brown said. “They slide to the ball. They’re well coached. We had some trouble last year just blocking them from a personnel standpoint.”
Facing the Red Devils on the heels of a demanding game against Washington-Wilkes is no small task. Brown described last week’s game was a very physical contest. His team must now turn around and play another physically-demanding game.
“Those things, especially late in the season, take a toll on your kids,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to get refocused and recovered and ready to play another physical football game this Friday night against a very well-coached team … The really good teams out there find ways to get it done, so we hope we can put together a good game plan and get our kids ready.”
As for a potential region title, Brown said, “We don’t want to make too much of it.”
“It’s nice to be in this position, and actually, this is the second time in three years that we’re playing for a region championship in the last game of the season,” Brown said. “It’s a good place to be … I want the team, and especially the seniors, to enjoy the moment, but at the same time I want to continue to focus on us,” Brown said.
The Tigers also have a long history with the Red Devils in what will be a meeting between two of the traditional powers of Class A football. This will be the 19th pairing between the two teams. Commerce hasn’t beaten Lincoln County — which has 11 state titles and 33 region titles to its credit — since 2002.
Brown said his team can’t get too caught up in the atmosphere surrounding this game.
“I want the kids to enjoy all those things, but we’ve got to be careful,” Brown said. “I don’t want any of those things to become a distraction to us, either preparing this week or playing the game on Friday.”