Tiger Tales 7
To simply say that the Commerce Tigers were determined to beat Winder-Barrow in 1960 would be an understatement. The Tigers were ready for this game both mentally and physically, as they remembered the Bulldogs’ (39-7) rout of the talent deficient and oft injured Commerce team in the final game of 1959.
The 1959 game was still bitter in the minds of players and coaches, and they knew that this was the time to get sweet revenge.
Tiger Stadium was filled to capacity to witness this (19-7) upset win over eventual Region 4A sub region champion Winder-Barrow which gave the Tigers an undefeated record after the first two games of the 1960 campaign.
What made the game an extraordinary one was the fact that the Tiger defense swiped eight, yes eight errant Winder-Barrow passes on the night which was and still is a school record in that department. Defensive back and quarterback Leon Ellis was the main culprit on this night of grand theft by picking off three aerials of his own.
Defensive back Billy Hendricks contributed two thefts, as the “quick as a cat” Commerce defense limited the powerful Bulldog offense to only seven points, and these came very late in the contest.
This extremely tough Tiger defense gave up only 51 points during the entire ten game season in 1960 and added five shutouts as well en route to a (7-2-1) season record.
The Tigers knew that it would take hard work to defeat Winder-Barrow, and the team paid the price in preparation for this heavyweight tilt. Key blocks, vicious tackles and an air tight pass defense were very much a part of the Commerce victory, as the Tiger defenders intercepted eight errant passes and recovered two Bulldog fumbles; a total of ten errors were forced by the swarming Tiger defense on this mild evening in Tigertown.
Ten is the most turnovers by a Tiger opponent in the long history of Commerce High School. In an average game, a team usually only has between eight and twelve possessions in a contest. To give the ball away ten times in an encounter is most unusual.
After the game’s initial kickoff, Winder kept possession of the ball for the first nine minute of the contest and drove down to the Tiger four yard line, but the ever alert Tiger defense would not yield any further and Commerce took over on downs.
Just before the half, the Tigers got a drive going behind the blocking of its forward wall led by ends-Dennis and Kenneth Lord, tackles-Wesley Wells and Toye Brown, guards-Butch Massey and Thomas Winn and center-Ronnie Farmer.
The drive was culminated when halfback Billy Hendricks corralled a 4-yard TD pass reception from quarterback Ellis that had been batted around by several Bulldog defenders before Hendricks latched on to the ping pong pigskin. Ellis then passed to Hendricks once more for the PAT giving Commerce a (7-0) halftime lead.
The second half saw Commerce score on two determined drives. Halfback Buford Howell culminated the march, as he swept left end behind the blocking of fullback Ken Davis to score the second Tiger tally of the night from 10 yards out. The PAT failed but Commerce now had a two touchdown lead at (13-0).
Later, Davis would become a three-year letterman at UGA as a center and linebacker.
Shortly thereafter, Hendricks hit the line of scrimmage and seemed to be going nowhere. However, the young scat back refused to be tackled, bounced off the dogged Bulldog defenders and eluded the would-be throng of Winder-Barrow pursuit as he galloped 40 yards to pay dirt. This was his second score of the game. A second failed PAT left Commerce with a comfortable lead, and the scoreboard reading (19-0).
Bulldog mistakes and the tenacious Tiger defense time and again thwarted the Winder attack at every turn until late in the final quarter when QB Tommy Dickens scored for the Bulldogs on a one-yard plunge to make the final score (19-7). Commerce had truly avenged the 1959 loss in Winder with a heart-thumping cat and dog fight thriller.
Commerce went on to post a (7-2-1) season record losing only to Central Gwinnett in the “Lights Out” game and St. Pius both by a touchdown in each contest. The Tigers only other blemish was a (0-0) tie with Jefferson in the season’s fourth game.
The 1960 Commerce team holds the distinction of allowing only 51 total points during the season; this is the fewest points ever given up by a Tiger team in a ten game schedule.
The 1960 Tiger team is one of the finest from Commerce not to make the playoffs.
Tiger helmets worn during the 1910’s and 1920’s were of the brown leather variety in the early history of Commerce football.
However, since football was rejuvenated in 1940, the Tiger helmet has changed on a few occasions.
From 1940-1951, the Commerce helmet was basically a black one with a few yellowish-brown sections in the late 1940’s.
From 1952-1955, Commerce wore a solid silver helmet. Beginning in 1956-1966, the Tiger helmet was solid black once more. However, in 1965 there was one white stripe down the center, and in 1966 two white stripes were placed down the center of the head gear.
In 1967, when Coach Ray Lamb became the Tiger’s head mentor he had Commerce players wearing a gold helmet with a white center stripe flanked by two black ones.
The following season in 1968 a black “C” outlined in white was added to both sides of the Tiger helmet. This lasted through the 1973 season.
In 1974 for the first 6 games, Commerce wore a black helmet again with a white stripe down the center. In game seven, the Tigers added a tiger paw on each side. This pattern lasted through the 1988 season.
With the coming of Steve Savage as the Commerce head coach in 1989, Commerce went to the solid gold helmet with a center black stripe. This lasted through 1994.
In 1995 Coach Savage initiated the black helmet once more with a wide center gold stripe flanked by two white stripes and a gold Cincinnati baseball “C” on each side outlined in white. This has been the Tiger helmet through the 2009 season.
Quarterback Reuben Haynes did something in the 2007 season that no other Tiger player has ever done. He gained over 1000 yards both rushing and passing in a single season.
In his senior season which was one with a (6-5-0) record, Haynes time and again carried the Tiger team on his back offensively. In three games during his senior season, he had over 200 yards rushing and in four he had over 100 en route to a total of 1539 rushing yards as the Tigers used the Spread Option attack.
As a passer he had four games of over 100 yards passing and a season total in 2007 of 1350 yards gained along with eight TD passes.
In his career, he was one of the most prolific offensive producers in Tiger history with 6501 yards of total offense in his three years as a starter for the Commerce Tigers ranking him second only to Monte’ Williams total of over 9000 yards in his career as a Tiger.
The University of Georgia Bulldogs have long been known for their silver britches which were first introduced by head coach Wally Butts in 1939.
The Commerce Tigers at one point in their football history also used “silver britches” during the period of 1952-59 and for this eight year stint only. Most other years Commerce has used either black or gold pants in its football history.
Tuesday Night Football
In 1957 Commerce played an unusual Tuesday night football game against South Habersham with the Tigers coming out a winner in a close (13-12) hard-fought contest.
Here is the scenario. Commerce and the Rebels were to originally play the game on Friday, October 4. However, an influenza epidemic hit north Georgia with many throughout the area including football players being hit by “The Flu”.
The contest was then moved to a later date in the season and was to be played on an unusual Tuesday night in Commerce. The Tigers won the thriller when the Tigers came back from two six point deficits twice for the win.
Midway through the game, Tiger halfback Gene Brake tied the game at (6-6) with a five yard run. Later in the fourth period with the Tigers down 12-6, Commerce drove the pigskin down deep into South Habersham territory where fullback Willard Wofford plunged in over right guard from two yards out to tie the score at twelve. Wofford then tacked on the all important PAT with another burst into the Rebel line, as the Commerce Tigers snatched victory away from defeat with a come from behind (13-12) win in this non-region game.
Commerce, four days later, played its third game in eight days the following Saturday, as they traveled southward to play the Winder-Barrow Bulldogs. Commerce fell to the ‘Dawgs by a (25-13) score as weary legs had caught up with the Tiger team.
This was the first Saturday game for Commerce in the modern era since Commerce High had reinstituted football to “the city on the tracks” in 1940.
While Commerce was a Class B team, these two traditional rivals of the Tigers in South Habersham and Winder-Barrow were both in Class A, a higher classification.
99 Yard Kickoff Return
In the 2004 Commerce football season, kickoff returner Hank Tiller had one more fabulous season in dazzling the eyes of the faithful onlookers from Commerce.
In the fourth game at Banks County, Tiller sprinted up the middle of the field on the opening kickoff of the second half and darted 92 yards to gloryland leaving would be Leopard tacklers in his wake while increasing the Tiger’s game lead to (34-0) in an eventual Commerce victory of (40-13).
This Tiger feat eclipsed the old record of 90 yards by Monte’ Williams also versus Banks County in 1998.
Later in the eighth game of the season at arch rival Jefferson, Tiller stepped up once more. This time with the Dragons having just scored to take a (7-3) lead, Hank Tiller received the ensuing Jefferson kickoff at his own one yard line and sprinted up the middle of the field to the Tiger 25. The young pass receiver turned kickoff returner then angled his run to the right as he approached the Jefferson bench eluding two would be tacklers in the effort. From here, he turned on the afterburners and sprinted untouched down the Dragon sideline for the go ahead Tiger score at (10-7).
This was one of the most electrifying scores in Commerce football history, as the Tigers went on to win this thrilling contest in double overtime by a (34-31) score.
Hank Tiller was a typical Commerce football player in that he didn’t necessarily have major college football talent, but he utilized the gifts that he had been naturally given and worked hard in the weight room and on the practice field to improve those gifts and magnify his talent. He always gave a great effort on offense as well as defensively.
Wow! Hank Tiller had broken the Tiger kickoff return record twice in the same season.
Besides Tiller’s longest kickoff return TD, there are numerous others who hold a record for the longest effort on a scoring play.
David Thomas in 1982 gave Commerce followers the longest return of an interception when he stepped in front of an errant pass by an Oconee County quarterback and using his exceptional speed sprinted 92 yards down the sidelines in front of the Tiger bench for a touchdown that placed a nail in the Warrior’s coffin for a Tiger lead and final score of (29-9) en route to a Commerce victory over the hosts in this old fashion Region 8A rivalry.
David Thomas was not only a fine defensive back for Commerce but also an outstanding receiver as well.
Monte’ Williams has the longest run from scrimmage for a touchdown, a 97-yard effort versus Landmark Christian in 1997, as well as the second longest pass reception for a TD with an 87-yard effort from QB Dustin Allen vs. Banks County in 1998.
Monte’ Williams had 9278 yards of Total Offense in his four year career at Commerce from 1997-2000. Words cannot aptly describe his football playing ability. However, here is one–Marvelous, just marvelous
Tiger defensive back and quarterback Jason Pittman had the longest Fumble Return for a touchdown in 1991 at Oglethorpe County when he intercepted a lateral in mid air behind the Patriot line of scrimmage and streaked 89 yards untouched for a Tiger touchdown. The Tigers ended up losing this very close contest by a (25-24) score when Commerce was unsuccessful at making any of their four PAT attempts.
Pittman was an extremely gifted option quarterback and ran the option to perfection. He also holds the Tiger record for the most successful two-point conversions in a game with five in a game versus Decatur in 1990 and the most in a career with 24 from 1990-1991.
Steve Gary in the 1966 game against arch rival Madison County, put on one of the most dazzling offensive shows in the annals of Tiger football.
Not only did he return a punt for a 95 yard touchdown during a (42-6) drubbing of the Red Raiders from the east, but he added three other scores as well.
Following a Madison County punt in the second stanza, Gary gathered the ball in at his own five yard line. He then zigzagged his way first to the left and then to his right through the Red Raider punt coverage team like they were a sieve. This 95-yard jaunt for a TD is still the longest punt return in Commerce football history.
The run was a thing of beauty, as he reversed his direction on two occasions while picking up numerous blocks downfield along the way toward the touchdown. Needless to say, the effort electrified the Tiger faithful on this night when he had 316 yards of total offense against a good Madison County team led by quarterback Cauthen Westbrook.
Gary also scored on runs from scrimmage of 22 and 42 yards and caught a 37-yard TD pass from halfback Danny Sorrow. Gary later also added an 85-yard punt return for touchdown that was called back due to a penalty. Alas, if Madison County couldn’t stop Gary, the referees could.
Steve Gary is ninth on the Tiger all time list for Total Offense in his three year career at CHS from 1964-66 with 3721 yards. He was indeed a phenomenal football player.
Todd Lord holds the Commerce record for the most kickoffs into end zone or touchbacks in Commerce history with a total of 50, yes 50 during his four year career from 1981-84. He began his kickoff duties as a freshman and helped lead the Tigers to a win total record during his four year starting career of (35-12-0). He was outstanding as a pass receiving and run blocking tight end for Commerce. No other Tiger player even comes close to having fifty career kickoffs into the end zone. No other Tiger player has more than fourteen.
The Commerce Tigers had used the Notre Dame Box single-wing offensive formation for years in their football infancy during the 1920’s, 1940’s and through the 1951 season. However, Coach Ralph Chambers who was a master at coaching this single-wing offense had left Commerce following the (1951-52) school year and Commerce needed a new coach for the 1952 season.
The new Commerce football coach for the 1952 season was Andy Anderson. He was hired by Superintendent W.R. Lang. Under Anderson’s guidance, the Tigers used the Tight-T Formation offense through the first four games of the season. Tiger linemen were in a tight line formation in this offense, and through the first four games Commerce had a dismal record at (1-2-1).
However, on Friday Oct. 10, the Tigers had an open date on the schedule. The next day on Saturday, Coach Anderson went to Athens, Ga. to see the Georgia Bulldogs host the very powerful Maryland Terrapin football team. Maryland overwhelmed the Georgia team in a (37-0) rout.
Maryland used a new version of the T-Formation offense called the Split T-Formation. In this offense the Maryland linemen were split about two feet from each other. It was the new thing in college offenses in 1952, and Maryland ran it to perfection.
Coach Anderson watched closely at the blocking schemes and plays used by Maryland’s Coach Jim Tatum and decided to install this offense for the Commerce Tigers.
Using this new offense, Commerce hosted a favored Greensboro team the following week and upset the visitors (20-12). After installing this new brand of offensive football, the Commerce Tigers won five of their last six games and finished the 1952 football campaign with a record of (6-3-1).
The following season, Commerce had a season record of (7-3-0) using this Split-T Formation offense. In the sixteen games that Coach Anderson used the Split-T, Commerce had a record of (12-4-0) and each of the four losses were only by a touchdown or less with the exception of the (30-7) loss to South Habersham in 1952.
This offensive change helped to energize the Tiger team, as they began to perform at a higher level over the two seasons that Andy Anderson was head mentor for Commerce.
Thursday Night Football
The Commerce vs. Jefferson games in 1948 and 1949 were played on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. These are the only dates that Wednesday was ever used for games in this rivalry.
1950 is the only year that the two teams did not play each other since the series began in 1947. There is much speculation as to why the two teams did not sign a contract for this season. However, it could be that Commerce had won the previous year in 1949 by a whopping (61-0) score which might have stirred some animosity in the Jefferson camp.
Single season game contracts were used in Georgia high school football through the 1953 season. Back to back season football contracts for high school football in Georgia did not begin until the 1954-1955 school years.
Additionally, Commerce began playing Jefferson on Thursday nights in the 1951 and 1952 football seasons. These two years are the only Thursday night football encounters between the two schools.
Also in 1952 an unusual occurrence took place. Commerce and Jefferson made arrangements that since both teams had home games on Friday, Oct. 3, that Commerce would play its Friday scheduled game with Buford on Thursday night to allow Jackson Countians to see both this contest as well as view Jefferson’s Friday game with North Habersham. Commerce and Jefferson fans could then gain admission to two high school football games in the county during this week using this newly thought of scenario.
However, after further thought many Commerce fans complained, since Friday was a more convenient night to watch high school football games than Thursday, because many folks did not have to work the following day on Saturday. Therefore, the idea was squelched for Commerce-Jefferson games in the future.
The Thursday night game between Commerce and Buford on Oct. 2, 1952 was the last time that Commerce has ever played a game on a Thursday.
2 TD Rallies
There have been numerous occasions in which the Commerce football team has rallied to overcome a two touchdown deficit for a win or tie. The following are a few.
1964—Commerce-31, Monroe Area-14 Commerce down (14-0) at the half, came back with 31 unanswered points for the Region 4A title.
1969—Commerce-27, South Habersham-18 Commerce down (12-0) at the half, rallied for a (27-18) win in the final game between the two schools.
1972—Commerce-26, Cartersville-18 Commerce down (12-0) in the second quarter, rallied for a (14-12) halftime lead and eventual victory.
2005—Commerce-15, Trion-14 Commerce down (14-0) at the half, rallied for a (15-14) come from behind victory.
1981—Commerce-29, Hart County-29 Commerce down (0-22) and (7-29) rallied to tie the score at (29-29) and later became Class AA state champions.
1989—Commerce-24, Oglethorpe Co.-20 Commerce down (6-17) in the third quarter, rallied to win late in the fourth quarter.
2000—Commerce-16, Lincoln County-15 Commerce down (15-0) in the fourth quarter rallied to win on a last play field goal.
There are many others; these are a few.
Failed to Make the Playoffs
There have been a few fine Commerce Tiger teams through the years that did not make the playoffs, because at that time in Georgia high school football only the region champion went into the playoffs. Therefore, Commerce teams just barely missed the opportunity.
The 1949 Commerce team led by HB Gene White was an extremely talented group of football players, but they did not make the state playoffs because they were unable to defeat an equally talented Toccoa team in a game won by the Purple Hurricanes (27-23). Commerce finished the season with a record of (8-2-0).
The 1950 Tiger team led by FB Gene Baird was an extremely versatile and talented crew, but failed to get into playoff action because of probably the most unexpected upset in Tiger history when a mediocre South Habersham squad defeated the high-powered offensive team of Commerce in Cornelia by a (7-0) score breaking an 11 game winning streak by the Tigers. This Tiger team finished the season with a (7-2-0) record.
The 1958 Commerce team led by HB Tabby Love was also very talented but lost to eventual Class A state champion Stephens County by an (18-7) score. They finished the season with an (8-1-1) record.
The 1960 Commerce team led by HB Billy Hendricks and FB Ken Davis played in a very talent laden region of teams. Commerce had a season record of (7-2-1) losing to Central Gwinnett and St. Pius in very close games and therefore missed playoff action.
The 1974 Tiger team led by QB Abe Brown and HB Raymond Harris was also a very good one but lost to Jefferson (22-7) and missed the playoffs after a record of (7-2-1).
The 1975 Commerce squad led by QB Randy Butler was also talented but again lost to Jefferson by a close (14-12) score and failed to make the playoffs after a season record of (7-1-2).
Commerce has had many almost great football teams that failed to make the playoffs. The above six selections are the primary ones.