Tiger Tales 5
The Athens Academy Spartans marched their green army up Highway 441 with intentions of slaughtering the Commerce Tigers. But after the two teams slugged it out with little scoring for much of the game, the GOLD and BLACK clawed their way back into the battle for a victory that seemed lost.
After knocking on the door for more than three quarters, Commerce finally burst through and found the end zone, as they scored a pair of touchdowns in a span of 55 seconds in the final stanza and walked off the field with their heads held high after a great fourth period rally in winning this war by a score of (14-6).
On the Spartans first possession of the game, AA drove in eight plays to the Commerce 21 where a fourth and fourteen field goal attempt of 38 yards by Sam Pittard split the uprights to put the green clad visitors on the board early with a (3-0) lead.
Four possessions later in this defensive struggle, Spartan quarterback Carter Gunn connected with split end Brett Satterfield for 36 yards to the Commerce 11. Here the Tigers bowed their neck and forced another Pittard field goal. This time it was good from 23 yards out and upped the Athens Academy lead to (6-0) at the half.
On their first drive of the second half, Commerce gained possession at the AA 37 following a botched run with the punt snap by the Spartan kicker.
Commerce moved to the AA 11 but lost the first of three fumbles on the night with a bobbled handoff to squelch the drive.
On the Tigers’ next possession, they shot themselves in the foot once more after a 43-yard drive when QB Reuben Haynes fumbled on first down at the AA 39 to hobble another scoring drive possibility.
The Spartans then streaked down the field to the Commerce 22 behind the running of fullback Nick Stiles and the passing arm of Gunn. However, the fumblitis disease that had plagued the Tigers for three occasions on the evening proved to be contagious and now jumped on the Athens Academy back, as they were about to lose the hot pigskin.
After receiving a pass from Gunn, split end Pittard lost control of the handle on the pigskin on this clear and cool evening, and a swarm of Commerce defenders pounced on the loose
ball at the Tiger seven yard line with 5:17 to go in the game. At this point, a somewhat slow contest in sheer excitement turned into a Fourth of July fireworks display with everyone on
their feet for the rest of the night.
This recovery was the spark that the Tigers needed, as the Reuben Haynes led felines marched 93 yards in eight plays. Commerce converted a fourth and two situation at their own 15 with a two-yard run by fullback Randy Womack who got the first down by inches.
Athens Academy was flagged for 15 more yards after several Spartan players reacted to the fourth down spot and the eventual first down call by the referee.
Sandwiched around two other penalties, Haynes then completed three consecutive passes of 11 yards to Josh Hill and 22 yards to Tony Crawford which set up the third and final pass which was a 46-yard beauty to Hill who streaked down the right sidelines. Hill had motored past the AA defender and caught the aerial in stride for the Tigers’ first tally of the night at the 2:28 mark of the final stanza.
Dusty Black’s PAT was true for a (7-6) advantage and the Tigers had finally garnered a lead that had slithered away from them for three and a half quarters.
Alas, don’t sit down and relax now for there’s more to come.
Then, after the kickoff, with the Spartans facing a fourth and thirteen situation at the AA 14, QB Gunn’s pass fell incomplete giving the Tigers a golden opportunity to increase their lead.
Shortly thereafter, Coach Gunn of Athens Academy called timeout just before the Tigers ran their second down play at the 10. AA seemed determined that they would relax on the play and allow the Tigers to score which Haynes did on the second down option keeper.
Man, was that a weird scene with all those silver and green clad Spartans standing around doing nothing on this second Tiger touchdown play. Dusty Black’s PAT was good for a
(14-6) Tiger lead with only 1:33 to go in the game.
Why you might say would AA come up with this nonchalant maneuver? Probably so that AA could get the ball back on the kickoff and hopefully score a TD and get the two point conversion for the possible tie, otherwise Commerce might run out the clock.
The AA plan almost came to fruition. Following the kickoff, Dustin Alewine returned the kick 33 yards out to midfield, where QB Gunn completed four passes to Pittard, Satterfield and Ferrara to place the ball at the Commerce nine with first and goal and only 41 seconds remaining in the game.
However, the cream always rises to the top and the Commerce defense was the cream tonight as two AA passes fell incomplete. On a third down pass play, the Tiger defense sacked the quarterback, but the Tigers were called for a face mask penalty and the ball was moved to the four.
Talk about drama. These last few minutes of this game were full of it.
Halfback Bevan Hopper then ran for two yards to the two where AA called timeout with 25 seconds remaining in the game. On fourth and two, Hopper rambled around right end but was bolted out of bounds by Tiger defender Alonzo Huff at the five. Huff had shucked blockers in order to keep his feet and was able to force Hopper out of bounds before the Spartan halfback could cross the goal line.
CELEBRATE!!!!! The Tigers had bowed their neck once again, as they came up with the big plays offensively and defensively when they had to in order to win a game. And yes it was a game that seemed to many Commerce onlookers to be completely out of reach of a victory on this cool night in Tigertown. “Never, never give up,” an old adage states. And on this night, the Tigers of Coach Steve Savage had adhered to this old proverb.
From the 0:20 mark, Coach Steve Savage’s charges now took a knee on two consecutive snaps and walked off the field with a never say die victory of (14-6). “Determination and hard work are the paths to success,” Coach Savage once said. This night was a great example.
On September 8, 2006 the Decade of the 1940’s Football Reunion was held before the Commerce-Franklin County game at Tiger Stadium in Commerce. 41 of the 77 players still living attended the reunion dinner held in the Commerce High School cafeteria, and later they attended the Commerce vs. Franklin County football game. Those in attendance received a T-Shirt with information about the reunion printed on the shirt. All attending seemed to have a great time renewing old acquaintances.
Following the dinner, players had a group photo session near the Tiger practice football field. Reunion players were later introduced to the Commerce crowd just prior to the start of the game, as many fans saw old players for the first time after having heard about their exploits for years.
Most of these reunion players also attended the game and sat in a special section on the Commerce side of the field. The game was won by Commerce (14-7) and enjoyed by all.
On August 28, 2009 the Decade of the 1950’s Football Reunion was held before the Commerce-Jefferson game at Memorial Stadium in Jefferson. About 150 former Commerce as well as Jefferson players along with many wives attended the function. A meal was served in the Jefferson High School cafeteria. A bag of goodies was given to each player along with a T-shirt for those that purchased one and a CD of the football history of their school. Fun was had by all, as old acquaintances were renewed once more by both teams.
Following the dinner, players from both teams were bused to the football stadium and sat in the end zone area to watch the game. At halftime, players were introduced to the attending spectators by the corresponding senior season in which they played. Jefferson won the game by a score of (30-13).
Man, Was It Foggy
The two foggiest Commerce football games that I have ever attended since 1955 were in 1957 and in 2006.
On September 20, 1957, Commerce hosted the Lavonia Bulldogs. Later following the kickoff, a heavy fog settled in over the field during the game. From a distance at one point, it was difficult to see some of the players’ numbers from the opposite side of the field. Just a week prior to this game with Lavonia, the Commerce press box had been torn down from the home side of the field rebuilt on the visitors’ side of the gridiron.
Commerce lost this miserably foggy contest (13-6). Gene White was the Lavonia coach. He had been a former Tiger halfback from 1948-49, former University of Georgia end from 1951-53 and former Green Bay Packer player in 1954 before injury ended his professional career.
On September 1, 2006, Commerce traveled to Tiger, Ga. to play the Rabun County Wildcats. As Tiger fans traveled up Highway 441 about an hour before the scheduled kickoff at 7:30, Commerce followers encountered extremely heavy rain. By kickoff time, the skies had a very rainy and threatening appearance.
Then by the start of the second half, very heavy fog moved in, and remained as extreme, dense fog for most of the remainder of the contest. From the press box, it was difficult to see player’s numbers on the opposite side of the field. However, on the field, the players seemed to have little difficulty in dealing with the foggy conditions.
At this point in Tiger history, the (38-27) Commerce win on this foggy night was the 500th known victory in Commerce Tiger football history. However, other games and wins have been discovered since this contest to add to the Tiger total.
Tiger Pony Express
There have been three primary occasions in Commerce football history where the Tigers used the Pony Express to enable the team to compete at its highest level. By that it is meant that a Tiger back went above and beyond the call of duty and carried the mail or the ball carrying load for his team in excess to enable the team to have a greater chance of winning the game.
In 1999 in a game at Commerce versus Greater Atlanta Christian School, halfback Monte’ Williams carried the pigskin a school record 40 rushing attempts in a 13-10 Commerce victory.
Commerce jumped out to an early lead of (7-0) in the first quarter when Williams sped across the goal line from seven yards out.
Both teams played great defense on this night. It was a very hard-hitting game on the part of two excellently coached teams. Commerce had 271 yards of total offense on the evening, while GAC accumulated a total of 260 yards.
Williams ended the night with 180 yards along with his 40 totes.
Down 10-7 at the half, the Tigers came roaring back in the third stanza and went on a 10 play-85 yard drive for the go ahead score on their first possession of the second half. This score was one they would never surrender.
Williams carried the ball on nine consecutive plays, before quarterback Daniel Carder found split end Michael Collins on a post pattern down the middle of the field for a 36-yard touchdown. Casey Gary’s PAT attempt was blocked and the score remained at (13-10) for the remainder of the night, as Commerce went home a winner.
There were no traditional long runs by Monte’ in this defensive slugfest, as his longest gain of the evening was a mere 18 yards. However, he put the team on his back with 40 attempts and took a lot of punishment in propelling the Tigers to victory against a tough GAC team.
Williams ended the season as Atlanta Journal Constitution Back of the Year with a total of 2505 rushing yards for the season and 8844 for his four year career the latter a state of Georgia record. These are both Commerce records as well.
In 2003 versus #1 ranked Lincoln County, Commerce went down to defeat to the Red Devils by a (14-7) score. However, Dennis Wilder put on a performance that will not long be forgotten. It was one in which he had 37 rushing attempts which is the second most in school history.
In the game the previous week, Commerce was defeated by Morgan County and in the game quarterback Josh Haynes was injured and not likely to be available for play the following week against the Red Devils.
Coach Steve Savage then installed the Notre Dame Box single wing offense to utilize the running skills of tailback Dennis Wilder. Commerce had not run this ancient offense since the final game of the 1951 campaign.
Commerce trailed in the game (14-0) going into the fourth period, after LC had scored on two possessions in the second quarter the final one was a 16-yard pass on the next to last play of the first half.
In the first three quarters, Wilder kept Tiger hopes alive with his running and passing ability although Commerce had been unable to find the end zone.
Of the 39 plays that Commerce had run in the first half, Wilder ran or passed the ball on 37 of those snaps. He was “so to speak” carrying the mail for the Tigers to give the team a chance.
Following a 7-play, 65-yard drive, the Tigers finally found the end zone early in the fourth period when Wilder plunged in to pay dirt from one yard out. Tommy Eason’s PAT was successful, as the Tigers were now only seven points down at (14-7).
Still behind by seven points and with only 3:51 to go in the contest, the Commerce defense came up with a big play when it recovered a Red Devil fumble at the Commerce 49.
In the previous four games with Lincoln County, Commerce had rallied in the fourth quarter in three of these contests to snatch victory away from defeat. In the 2002 game, the Tigers had a run away (28-6) win. What went through the mind of the Lincoln County faithful as well as their players had to be, “Is Commerce going to do it to us again”?
With the aid of two penalties a personal foul and a face mask infraction, the Notre Dame Box offense of Commerce run by the weary Wilder moved the pigskin down to the ten. However, a fourth down pass by usual QB Haynes to Wilder proved unfruitful, as he was tripped up back at the twelve with 47 seconds left in the contest. Lincoln County had won this another classic contest between the two Class A powers by a (14-7) score.
Commerce had run a total of 58 plays in the game, and Wilder was involved in 49 of them rushing, passing and receiving. He was indeed a horse for the Tigers on this night.
Wilder’s stats for the night were: 37 rushes for 145 yards, 4 of 11 passing for 60 yards and one reception for zero yards.
Wow! What a heroic performance. Commerce did not win the game, but Dennis Wilder gained the respect of everyone in attendance.
Wilder ended the 2003 season with 1925 rushing yards and eventually collected 3370 for a three year career total and placing him fifth on the Commerce career list.
In 1990 against a new foe in the Monticello Purple Hurricanes which Commerce had not faced since squaring off twice with two victories in 1943, the Tigers behind the 36 rushing attempts by wishbone halfback Wayland Rucker inched their way toward the Class A playoffs with a (36-23) victory in the final game of the regular season. The next week the Tigers faced the Hurricanes once more in the first of four playoff games for Commerce and won again (16-0).
At this point in Commerce football history, the most known rushing attempts by a Tiger football player was 36 run attempts by Runt Moon vs. Carrollton in 1972.
On this cool evening while playing on a damp field, Rucker put his name at the top of the rushing attempts leader list with 36 rushing efforts of his own on this eventful night.
Rucker, along with his 36 rushes, garnered 247 yards as the big fellow thundered through the Monticello defense for four touchdowns on runs of 16, 9, 22 and 31 yards the last two coming in the final quarter to cap 72 and 51 yard drives in an effort to keep the ball away from the powerful Hurricane offense.
Rucker had 1913 rushing yards for the 1990 season and had a four year career total of 2845 yards. This latter effort places Wayland Rucker at eighth on the Commerce career totals list.
Wayland Rucker was one of the finest running backs and probably one of the largest in Commerce football history at 6’ 2” tall and 215 lbs.
These are three of the greatest individual performances by Tiger running backs in the storied history of Commerce football.