Tiger Tales 4
Earliest Football History
We have discovered in the past few years that Commerce had a football team before 1916 as was first thought. The first team was in 1909. We have a picture of the 1909 team, but we have no opponents or scores from that first year. We have discovered that the first known game for Commerce was a (5-10) defeat at the hands of Athens High at Commerce in 1910. This was also the first season for Athens to field a football team as well.
From 1897-1911, five points was awarded for a touchdown and one point for the PAT. However, in 1912 college and high school football went to the new format of awarding six points for a TD as well as one point for the PAT.
The first really good team for Commerce was in 1914 when the team had a fine record of
(5-1) defeating Maysville, Monroe, Clarkesville A&M, Athens and Gainesville.
The 1915 team was the first undefeated team for Commerce at (4-0). Again Athens High was defeated along with Monroe A&M, Madison and Warrenton under the leadership of Coach E.J. Hardin who also coached the 1916 team as well.
The 1916 team won its first two games by defeating Gibson-Mercer of Bowman, Ga. by a score of (59-0) and Monroe A&M (44-0) for an 11 game win streak over three seasons before receiving an invitation to play Tech High of Atlanta. The Commerce football prowess had grown and was now recognized over north Georgia.
Tech High along with Boys High also of Atlanta were the two primary high school football powers in the state in the 1910’s and through the 1940’s.
The Commerce team traveled to the big city and stayed in the Majestic Hotel prior to the game. Commerce eventually lost to Tech High (44-7). Reports state that the game was tied at seven at halftime. However, Tech High was said to have used some Georgia Tech freshmen in the second half to help the team finish off the Commerce visitors in this game played at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field. Source—W.B.J. Hardman book, History of Jackson County
Commerce later lost to Piedmont College in a close (6-0) game and to the other Atlanta football power Boys High by a (21-0) score the following week. Both of these games were played at Hardman Field in Commerce which was located behind the high school near First Baptist Church. Commerce football had indeed been placed on the state of Georgia high school football map with these fine Commerce football teams that our city fielded from 1914-1916.
Fulton McConnell played for Commerce on the 1916 team. He had a brother named
Felton McConnell, sometimes known as Frank, who played on the 1919 Commerce team. Later, Felton played guard for the University of Virginia for one season in 1920 and also played the same position for Georgia Tech from 1922-23. Additionally, he played one season in the NFL for the Buffalo Bisons in 1927. Sources—Virginia and Georgia Tech Media Guides
We have what we believe are completed early Commerce football schedule records for the following seasons: 1914, 1915, 1916, 1923 and 1924. We have partial schedule records for the following seasons: 1910, 1911, 1912, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1925. We know that Commerce played football 1926-1928 before abandoning the exciting game from 1929-1939.
Numerous teams in Georgia did not play football in 1918 because of a statewide outbreak of Spanish Influenza in the months of October and November. We have no knowledge of Commerce fielding a team in 1918, and the flu factor may have been the reason.
Most of the Commerce teams in the 1920’s had poor records. We know of none that had a winning season. Later, with the coming of The Great Depression, Commerce dropped football following the 1928 season for 11 seasons before resuming football in 1940 under the guidance of Coach Richard Nix.
Notre Dame Box
Commerce ran the single wing offense back in the early days of its history. Especially in the 1920’s, the version used then was called the Notre Dame Box. A teams four backfield players would line up behind the center in a T-Formation look and then shift left or right into an offset power look. Commerce also used this offense through the 1951 season.
Commerce has only used the Notre Dame Box formation one other time in its football history, and that was in the Lincoln County game in 2003 following an injury from the previous week to quarterback Josh Haynes. Coach Steve Savage inserted this single wing formation to make use of the talent of running back Dennis Wilder. Commerce lost this close contest to the Red Devils (14-7) when the Tigers’ late rally fell just shy of the goal line on fourth down with time running out in the final period.
Since the 1950’s and through 1969 when Commerce began using varied sets of the
T-Formation offense, the Tigers have only faced a few teams that have utilized the old Notre Dame Box version of the single wing.
The following are the opponents that the Tigers have faced that have used the Notre Dame Box: Monroe Area in 1958-61, Carrollton in 1964-1965 and 1972-73, and Madison County in 1994-95.
Commerce first played in Social Circle in 1991. An unusual fact is that behind the press box at the Social Circle Stadium is a cemetery. I know of no other visitors stadium that the Tigers have played in that has this unique facet. By the way, Commerce has a record of (5-2-0) at THE CEMETERY.
What an unusual site it is to sit in the visitors stand or be on top of the press box and look behind you and see that cemetery. Commerce has only played one game at Social Circle that fell on Halloween or Friday the 13th, and that was the Friday the 13th game in 1995 and the Tigers won by a score of (48-19).
Obviously, the Tigers were not affected by ghosts or goblins on this spooky night near the cemetery.
Through the years there have been three occasions that I am aware of when lightning has caused a delay in the start of a game in which Commerce has played. As a side note, on each of these occasions the incident has occurred at an opponent’s host stadium.
There was a 30 minute delay at Franklin County in 1986 when lightning and heavy rain caused the start of the game to be delayed. Commerce eventually won (14-0). QB Scott Nunn scored on 13 and 1 yard runs. The Commerce defense limited the Lions to a meager 63 yards of total offense, as the Tigers were the ones that roared on this damp night.
In 1996 at Buford, the game was delayed for 30 minutes due to lightning; Commerce lost (41-0). The contest was played in a deluge of rain for the entire game.
However, the lightning game that is most remembered by Tiger fans is the 2005 Saturday game played at Trion. With a most fierce lightning display that started just eight minutes following the opening kickoff, the game had to be delayed for one hour and thirty minutes before it could be resumed. Because of the long delay, halftime was shortened to three minutes from its normal time frame.
Commerce, facing a (14-0) deficit in the third quarter, eventually rallied to win this rainy contest. The Tigers cut the deficit to (14-7) following a 38-yard TD run by QB Reuben Haynes, as momentum for Commerce began to build.
Midway through the final stanza, with Commerce facing a fourth and goal situation at the Trion six, quarterback Reuben Haynes rolled to his right and threw a six-yard TD pass to halfback Josh Hill in the right corner of the end zone to narrow the gap to one point. Following an off sides penalty on the hosts, Commerce went for two and was successful when fullback Randy Womack burst up the middle from one yard out for the successful two-point conversion to propel the Tigers into the lead at (15-14).
A short time later, Commerce dodged a bullet when the Trion kicker with a possible game winner in sight missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that enabled the Tigers to return home with a hard-fought one point victory.
The game had a 7:30 start but the rain delay caused the game not to end until after 11PM.
A 21st Century First
The first Commerce score in the 21st century came in the first game of the 2001 Tiger football season versus Franklin County which Commerce eventually won (29-13).
In the Tigers first possession of the season as well as the century, Commerce drove 56 yards in nine plays to the Lion seven yard line where they faced a second and goal situation. Tailback Lamar Daniels ran over right tackle and was hit hard by a Franklin County defender. Daniels fumbled forward into the end zone where offensive right tackle Adam Bagwell pounced on the loose pigskin for the first Tiger score of the 21st Century. He is officially credited with a seven-yard TD run.
The first Tiger score was not a pass reception, a run from scrimmage, a kickoff return or a punt return, but it was an unusual offensive fumble recovery and a very unusual one it was.
Additionally, Bagwell was also a game captain for this contest and later was chosen by his teammates as one of the two permanent captains for the 2001 Commerce Tiger team.
In 2002, Commerce traveled to beautiful Bill Corry Stadium in Madison, Ga. to play a very strong Morgan County Bulldog team.
Commerce won by a (10-3) score in a great defensive struggle. Commerce pulled out all the stops in its bag of tricks in an effort to move the ball against this tough Bulldog defense.
What was most unusual was that quarterback Josh Haynes and halfback Dennis Wilder were an amazing eleven for eleven in passing for 121 yards on the night. No quarterback or passing combination in Tiger history has ever been that proficient before or since.
Tiger receivers in the effort also made outstanding catches to help keep the passing streak alive during the contest.
An early touchdown by Haynes from three yards out on an option keeper in the first quarter, and a second quarter 27-yard field goal by Tommy Eason enabled the Tigers to go into halftime with a ten point advantage. The newly installed slide defense was used almost to perfection in the hard hitting contest, as Commerce came away with a tough (10-3) victory in Madison.
The run oriented Tigers had brought their air show to town and were on the mark on this pleasant September evening. Haynes was 9 for 9 in the passing department and Wilder contributed a 2 for 2 performance for Tiger faithful.
Longest Pass Play
On a clear and warm night in the opening game of the 2002 season at Tiger Stadium, a feat occurred that will never be surpassed in Commerce football history. The longest pass play in the annals of Tiger football took place.
With the Tigers hosting Franklin County and leading (8-0) midway through the second period, Commerce stopped a fourth and one situation at its own one yard line when the Franklin County quarterback’s option left run was stuffed by the Tiger defense near the goal line. They were led by the efforts of linebacker Nick Cox and company.
Coach Steve Savage then pulled a play out of his hat and shocked everyone in the stadium in calling for a pass play from his own goal line on the first snap thereafter. Quarterback Josh Haynes ran an option play to the right and pitched to halfback Dennis Wilder who had earlier in summer drills been in competition with Haynes for the signal callers duties.
Wilder in the next two seasons would go on to be one of the most prolific runners in Tiger history both in yards gained and touchdowns scored. The slender built Haynes was a fine signal caller and relentlessly ran the option and especially the pitch with precision.
On this goal line option play, after receiving the pitch from Haynes, Wilder planted his right foot and lofted a bomb down the right sideline to split end Jonathan Beasley. The Lion cornerback had been sucked in on the option play to come up and play the pitch. In doing so, Beasley streaked by the Lion cornerback and burst down the field on the pass play.
Wilder’s aerial was gathered in by Beasley at the Commerce 40 yard line, and the senior receiver motored down the field in front of the roaring Tiger faithful for a record 99-yard touchdown reception. It was as exciting a play as Commerce has ever run. Tiger fans as well as players were ecstatic when Beasley crossed the goal line with no defender near.
Who would have ever believed that the run-oriented Coach Savage would have ever called a pass play from the Tiger one yard line? Not me. This TD pass may later be equaled in Tiger football history, but it will never be surpassed. Alas, a 99-yarder. WOW!
There have been Tiger football games in which the punting exhibitions of Commerce players has been superb over the years. Michael Collins’ 70 yard kick vs. Lincoln County in the Georgia Dome in 2000 and John Fleming’s 68 yard boot vs. Winder-Barrow in 1970 have been noted in earlier versions of Tiger Tales.
The following are a few others:
Steve Gary in a region playoff game against the Clarkston Angoras in 1965 put on a precision punting effort that might be compared to the one that Georgia punter Bobby Walden showed off in the 1959 SEC game versus Auburn at Sanford Stadium when he booted three kicks out of bounds in the second half inside the Auburn ten.
Gary on this night did the same to Clarkston but it was primarily in the first half of this Commerce game. Both defenses played superbly on this misty and rainy night. Commerce continually got the ball in the first half near midfield, but the tough Angora defense limited the Tigers to only two first downs.
Gary time and again, at least four times, punted the ball deep into Clarkston territory inside or near the opponent ten pinning the Angoras deep near their goal line. Gary had many long punts of forty and fifty yards during his career at Commerce, but as a punter his ability to control his distance and place the ball in the coffin corner was one of his greatest gifts as a punter.
The vaunted Tiger defense led by linebacker Darold Crocker limited the powerful Clarkston offense to only one first down in the first half, as tough hard-hitting defenses on the part of both teams was the name of the game on this wet night.
Gary’s punting and the vaunted Commerce defense had kept the Tigers in the game until the offense finally got in gear in the second half to defeat Clarkston (15-7).
See Tiger Tales 1 for the rest of the game story.
Also, Gary was one of the greatest running backs in Tiger history. In his career, he collected 1050 yards receiving and 14 TD pass receptions along with 2671 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns. He was a phenomenal football player as well as an equally phenomenal basketball player. One night as a freshman guard, he scored 44 points against South Habersham’s basketball team.
Keith Bruce in a game at Hart County put on a fine punting exhibition, as he had a punting average of over fifty yards in booming punts of 52 and 62 yards as well as a few in the forty yard range. It was one of the finest single game punting exhibitions in Tiger football history.
Bruce’s punting performance kept the Bulldogs bottled up deep in their own territory for much of the night, and kept the hosts high-powered offense which had scored 50 points on Franklin County the week before from being able to get in high gear.
The Tigers went on to win this hard-hitting and close contest by a (6-0) score when halfback Runt Moon broke the scoreless tie late in the final stanza with a short TD run.
Keith Bruce was one of a long line of fine Commerce punters as well as being a very good pass catching and run blocking tight end.
Randy Butler probably had one of the greatest single-game punting performances in Commerce history against Stephens County in 1975 when he had three punts of over 50 yards in the 12-0 win by the Tigers.
Not only was he the quarterback and safety on the team, but also the fact of being the punter gave him extra duties. During this contest at Toccoa, he had punts of 54, 56 and 52 yards to keep the Indians bottled up deep in their own territory for much of the contest.
Butler later threw a five-yard touchdown pass to split end Allen Lacey with 4:34 remaining in the fourth period to break a scoreless tie. Lacey scored the final TD for the Tigers when he recovered an offensive fumble by the Tigers and then sprinted 40 yards for an additional tally in the shutout victory for Commerce.
Butler was a great athlete and basketball player for Commerce, and later played college football at Louisville and later was good enough to try out for the Atlanta Falcons.
Leon Ellis, in the 1960 game at Jefferson which ended in a (0-0) tie, was forced to take the punting chores for injured Billy Hendricks. He did an admiral job in the process, as on one occasion, he booted a 55-yard punt from his own end zone to get the Tigers out of a precarious situation. It was a thing of beauty at a critical time, as the Commerce Tiger team warded off the attempted Jefferson rally to win the game.
Indeed, Commerce and Jefferson combined for four punts of over fifty yards in this classic encounter between the cross-county River Rivalry.
Ellis was an outstanding quarterback for Commerce in 1959 and 1960. He was also a tough defensive back for the Tigers and helped lead the 1960 team to a (7-2-1) season record. He also played part time at QB during the (8-1-1) 1958 campaign.
Later, he served his country well in the United States Air Force. As a fighter pilot in the late 1960’s, his plane was shot down over enemy territory and he spent a number of years as a prisoner of war before being released from Viet Nam with other American POW’s in 1973.
Casha Daniels in the 2003 contest between rivals Commerce and Jefferson booted two monster punts of 65 and 52 yards during the Tiger’s (35-13) win. During his two year career as the Tiger punter he had a total of six punts of 50 yards or more.
Daniels started at linebacker for Commerce for four seasons 2000-2003 and holds the career tackles mark at CHS with 422 total tackles. He was one of the finest Tiger defensive players in the Commerce football history.