Tiger Tales 3
The 1962 Commerce team will go down in Tiger history as a team of good and bad streaks.
This Jeff Davis coached team won its first four games, as they defeated
Stephens County, Winder-Barrow, South Habersham and Jefferson in a row.
However, as fate throws itself at every team somewhere in its history, the wheels ran off for the Tigers, and the rolling snowball of defeat began to gain momentum as it went down hill toward the end of the season.
After having won four in a row to begin the season, the Tigers then lost the remaining six in a row to end the season with a (4-6-0) record.
The final six losses came in succession to Monroe, Madison County, Central Gwinnett, Tucker, White County and Lovett.
The 1941 team is the only Commerce squad to lose all ten games in the regular season; the 1965 team won twelve in a row before losing in the state championship game. But no Tiger team ever had a crazy won-loss streak like the 1962 team.
Commerce players always play hard and have pride in their play, but as Murphy’s Law says, “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong”, and that’s what happened to the 1962 Tigers. As hard as they tried, the Tigers just could not right the sinking ship.
An old adage says, “Everybody gets knocked down, Champions get back up.”
Coach Davis, the champion coach that he was, got the ship righted two years later, as his 1964 team recorded a (11-2-0) record and made it to the final four. His 1965 team went (12-1-0), winning twelve in a row, before losing the state championship game to Americus.
Indeed, the ship had been set back on course.
Coach Jeff Davis was indeed a winner. He coached the Tigers in 68 games from (1960-65) having four winning seasons and only two losing campaigns.
His 1961 team was the first Commerce team to win a region title in 21 seasons. Under his six year leadership the Tigers won three region championships and one sub-region title.
He finished his Tiger career with a record of (47-19-2); a (.712) winning percentage and had a (5-3-0) record in state playoff action.
Jeff Davis helped get the Tiger winning tradition started.
Coach Ray Lamb is the winningest head coach in Tiger history. In 22 seasons at the Tiger helm, his Commerce teams had 19 winning seasons and only three losing campaigns.
Commerce, under Lamb’s direction, had a record of (190-58-9); a (.766) winning percentage. In state playoff action, Commerce had a record of (24-13).
The Tigers won one state football championship in 1981, were runners-up in 1973 and 1976. In 1977 and 1978, Commerce went to the final four game and lost to eventual state champion East Rome by one point in each contest.
The Tigers under Coach Lamb won a total of eight region titles and seven sub-region championships.
Lamb taught good fundamental, hard-nosed, clean football and everyone enjoyed watching his teams play the game the way that it was designed to be played which was tough but in a sportsmanlike manner. However, in Lamb’s first year at the Tiger helm, the Tigers had a tough year. The 1964, 1965 and 1966 teams had a combined record of (33-4-0), but the talent pool had graduated and it was time to rebuild. Most times that cannot be done overnight and the 1967 Tiger team had to be a rebuilding one.
Ray Lamb’s first team in 1967 ended the year with a (3-6-1) record, and they were probably the most snakebit and hard luck team in Tiger history.
Commerce lost six games that year by a total of (19) points.
1 lost to Stephens Co. (19-21)
3 lost to So. Habersham (6-7)
4 lost to Jefferson (6-7)
5 lost to No. Habersham (0-7)
6 lost to Madison Co. (13-20)
7 lost to Toccoa (6-7)
8 tied Rabun County (20-20)
What are the odds on losing three games in five weeks by a (7-6) score?
If it was ever to be evident that PAT’s were important, this Tiger season was indeed the proof in the pudding.
By 1970, Lamb, like previous coach Jeff Davis in 1964, had righted the ship after installing the wishbone offensive attack and from 1970-1988, a total of 19 seasons, Lamb led the Tigers to a record of (178-42-7); a winning percentage of (.809).
Lamb’s Commerce home record over the same 19 seasons was an astounding (100-19-3); a winning percentage of (.840).
Commerce’s great winning tradition indeed was built to its pinnacle by Lamb who taught not only great winning football but character in the young men that he touched.
Lamb and Savage
In the decade of the seventies, the most losses that the Tigers under Coach Ray Lamb incurred were two in any one year. In the years 1972, 1973, 1975 and 1978, Commerce lost only one game.
The 70’s saw the Tigers win no state championships but lose their final game of the year in the finals or semi-finals on five occasions to the eventual state champions; Carrollton in 1972, Mt. de Sales in 1973, Turner County in 1976, and East Rome in 1977 and 1978.
During this decade, Commerce finished with a ten year record of (98-16-6), a winning percentage of (.859). Considering all the classifications of football in Georgia, only Warner Robins had a better record during the seventies.
Ray Lamb had indeed built a powerhouse in high school football that could compete with anyone in or near the Tigers’ school classification on a given night.
This facet of football life in Tigertown continued into the 80’s when Commerce won the State Class AA football title in 1981 and reached the final four in 1985 and 1986.
The football tradition in Commerce still continues until this day, as Coach Steve Savage, a former player and assistant under Lamb took over the Tiger reigns in 1989 and has been the Tiger mastermind for the past 13 years.
Under Savage’s leadership, Commerce has won one state championship in 2000, been in the final four on one occasion in 1999 and has won five region titles.
Savage’s record from 1989-2004 is (141-55-0), a winning percentage of (.719).
The tradition of excellence in football still continues.
Roll Tigers Roll.
The 1965 Tiger team holds the Commerce record for the most shutouts in a season with seven during a thirteen game season.
The awesome Commerce defense shutout the following teams: South Habersham and North Habersham by the midway point of the season. Then they blanked North Hall, Rabun County, White County and Franklin County consecutively for a total of six to end the regular season while adding a final shutout against Carrollton in the state playoffs for a total of seven.
The 1965 team is the only Commerce football team to shutout four teams in a row.
The only other Commerce squad to record six shutouts during the regular season was the 1949 team, which recorded shutouts against Covington, Buford, Cornelia (later changed to South Habersham in the early 1950’s), Campbell of Fairburn, Winder and Jefferson. Four of the last five games played by Commerce in 1949 were shutouts.
The 1964 Commerce team also had six shutouts to its credit during the season, however this was in a twelve game season. This total of six was also a great defensive accomplishment for this team of black and gold.
The 1949 team ended the season with a record of (8-2-0) but did not qualify for the playoffs, while the 1965 squad sported a record of (12-1-0) losing its last game to Americus in the state Class A championship game.
In its football history, Commerce has recorded a total of 121 shutouts, while the Tigers have been shutout themselves only 51 times.
Just as important as offensive achievements are the defensive ones. Football is a team game and shutting an opponent out is just as exciting as scoring numerous points in order to win a game.
In the 1973 Region 8A championship game with Cartersville, the Tigers fell behind but made a gallant comeback in the second and third quarters to get the win in one of the greatest and toughest HITTING games a Commerce team and its opponent have ever played.
On the second play of the game Tiger linebacker Joe Jones, son of Ed Jones with Ed and Bill’s Photo Shop, was knocked goofy but returned the game three plays later and continued to play a little addled for the remainder of the half.
On this initial drive by the Purple Hurricanes, Joel Ross scored on a four-yard run but the PAT kick was unsuccessful for a (6-0) Cartersville lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tiger fullback Troy Walker fumbled, and Cartersville recovered and scored on the next play from 24 yards out on a pass from QB Williams to Taylor. The PAT pass was unsuccessful, but the hometowners held a (12-0) lead with 5:56 left in the first quarter.
Things didn’t look too good for the Tigers, as they were indeed behind the 8-Ball.
Guts, heart and tradition entered the fold for the Tigers, as they reached down as a team, found the strength and determination that they needed and scored on their only two possessions of the second quarter to take the lead.
Halfback Runt Moon, midway in the period, scored on a two-yard plunge to cut the deficit to (12-7).
Just before the half, Commerce scored with only six seconds left in the half. Facing first down and goal on the one with less than ten seconds to go and no timeouts, Tiger QB Abe Brown, the son of Bill Brown a former Tiger player in the 40’s and also the other half of the ownership of Ed and Bill’s Photo Shop, bobbled the snap. Tiger fans and coaches gasped at the error.
However, Brown grabbed the loose pigskin in the air, lunged toward the end zone behind center–Kenny Hancock, guards–Rickey Smith and Joe Jones and barely made it into the end zone on a play that showed tremendous effort by the signal caller and his offensive linemen.
The resurgent Tigers then carried a (14-12) lead into halftime after two successful PAT’s by kicker Randy Harris.
On the Tigers’ two possessions of the third period, Moon scored on a six-yard run, but the PAT run failed on a run by Brown after a high snap. Then the other halfback Raymond Harris scored on a three yard run just before the end of the period, but again a poor snap on the PAT attempt left the Tigers with a (26-12) lead.
Cartersville then resorted to one of its trick plays shortly thereafter.
Following a Brown fumble at the Commerce 44 midway of the final period, Cartersville pulled some SHENANIGANS. The Hurricanes, at the Tiger 18, faced a fourth and one situation. The quarterback retreated away from the center and threw a lateral pass that bounced off the turf and into the hands of the wide receiver.
Thinking it was an incomplete pass, the Commerce defenders relaxed. .However, the wide receiver calmly threw a TD pass to a wide open receiver for the score. The score remained at (26-18) following the unsuccessful PAT run.
Undaunted and determined, Ray Lamb’s forces methodically used their powerful wishbone attack to run out the clock on an 11 play-47 yard drive and got out of Cartersville with one of the Tigers’ great come-from-behind victories.
It was a gut wrenching nail-biter that has gone down in Commerce football history as a classic.
The 1973 Tigers won thirteen straight games before losing to Mt. de Sales of Macon in the state championship game to end the season with a (13-1-0) record.
All teams have trick plays. The one Cartersville used has since been used by Commerce in times past and has worked successfully on numerous occasions.
On only three occasions in the long 62 year history of Tiger football, has Commerce ever played a team on back-to-back occasions.
The first was very unusual for it occurred in separate seasons.
In the Region 8A championship game of 1979, Cartersville with halfback Robert Lavette, later of Georgia Tech and Dallas Cowboy fame, came into Commerce and defeated the Tigers (21-18) for their only win over the Tigers in a total of eight attempts thereby knocking the Tigers out of the playoffs. Commerce ended the 1979 season with a (10-2-0) record.
In the opening game of the 1980 season, Commerce again hosted the Purple Hurricanes and returned the favor by defeating the little zephyr (21-13) behind two short TD runs from running backs Clark Williams and Terry Cook and a 39-yard scoring strike from quarterback Bobby Lamb to his brother and split end Hal Lamb. Commerce ended the 1980 season with a (6-4-0) record.
The second occurred in the 1990 season when Commerce defeated the Monticello Purple Hurricanes (36-23) behind the thundering runs of tailback Wayland Rucker who scored four touchdowns while gaining 247 yards on 36 attempts.
The next week in the first round of the state football playoffs, the Tigers hosted Monticello once more and in a much more defensive struggle Commerce won (16-0). Commerce ended the 1990 campaign with a (10-4-0) record.
The third and final back-to-back game with an opponent came in 1995 versus traditional cross-county rival Jefferson.
In the final game of the season, Jefferson marched into Tiger Stadium and convincingly defeated Commerce (21-7) for their first win in Tigertown since 1975.
However, Coach Steve Savage’s troops regrouped and traveled across the river to resume the Commerce-Jefferson football war for the second consecutive week.
This time the Tigers left the Dragons lying in the Jefferson Memorial Stadium dust, as they came away with a dynamic (22-18) victory.
Of the 56 games played between the two teams (5 were ties, so there have been only 51 victories), 45 or 88% have been won by the team that scored first.
Jefferson scored first on this night, but the Tigers came roaring back to win a thriller (22-18) on this night thereby throwing a monkey wrench in the score-first-and-win series scenario.
Behind their ball control attack with the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage, two touchdown passes of 36-yards and 51-yards from quarterback Kevin Poe to split end Russ Gregg and a tenacious defense, the Savage Tigers knocked the surprised Dragons from the playoff picture.
The 1995 Tigers went on to post a record of (10-3-0).
In the first playoff game of the 1989 season, Coach Steve Savage’s first at the Tiger helm, the Tigers made a frantic come-from-behind final stanza march for a touchdown in a (24-20) win over Oglethorpe County that rivaled those fourth quarter drives of the great 49ers’ quarterback Joe Montana in the NFL.
Early in the second period OC tailback Anthony scored from three yards out to put the Patriots up (7-0).
On their next possession the Patriots again drove deep into Tiger territory but were halted at the Commerce 21, where OC kicker Stoudenmire kicked a 38-yard field goal with less than five minutes left in the half to give OC a (10-0) lead.
However, the Gold and Black, behind the field generalship of quarterback J. Ben Bray, rallied and marched 81-yards in nine plays for a TD to answer the challenge, as big Wayland Rucker skirted left end from four yards out with just over a minute to play in the half. The PAT kick was blocked, but the Tigers were still on the short end of a (10-6) score at the half.
OC took the ensuing second half kickoff and drove 65 yards for the score on an 18-yard pass from Gresham to Davenport to give the Patriots what they must have thought was a commanding lead of (17-6).
Commerce then rallied and scored on all three possessions of the second half.
On the first second half possession, the Tigers again answered the call to arms and Bray led the Savage attack down the field 67-yards in 9 plays with big Cedric Wood blasting into pay dirt from eight yards out. The unsuccessful option keeper by Bray for the two-point conversion kept the Tiger deficit at (17-12).
Commerce took possession for the second time after an OC punt to the Commerce 33. A 48-yard halfback pass from Tyrone Rollins to Josh Massey down to the OC 12 set up the go ahead score for the Tigers.
Halfback Jason West, on the succeeding play, then scampered around right end for the score from twelve yards out giving the Tigers a one point lead of (18-12) after the unsuccessful PAT pass by Bray.
The Tigers had rallied, but it was short-lived.
OC then came storming back, behind the running of Anthony. Six plays later OC faced a fourth and four at the Commerce 13. Stoudenmire entered and put the Patriots ahead with a successful 31-yard field goal for a (20-18) OC lead with only 2:30 remaining in the game. The Patriots obviously thought they had the game wrapped up.
However, on the third Tiger possession following the ensuing kickoff, enter the Montana to Jerry Rice-like Tiger combination of Bray and Jason Waters. The pair along with Rollins put on a show to be remembered.
Commerce scored the game-winning touchdown on the best clock management in the waning minutes of a game of any Tiger scoring drive that I have ever seen. For the Tigers, in less than two minutes and thirty seconds, ran off twelve plays many of which were down and out passes that stopped the clock thereby preserving precious seconds.
From the Tiger 37, Bray converted on fourth-and-eleven with a 14-yarder to Waters on the sideline to the OC 49.
He then hooked up with Tyrone Rollins for 13 more to the Patriot 36. Following a five-yard loss as Bray was sacked back to the Patriot 41, the senior signal caller once more found Rollins for 15 yards down to the OC 26 just inches short of a first down.
On fourth and inches for a first down, fullback Wood then barreled over left tackle for five yards and a first down at the 21.
Bray, managing the clock beautifully, then connected on three consecutive passes. He first found Rucker for 6 yards and out of bounds at the 15, then to Waters for 9 yards as he stepped out of bounds at the six for another first down.
Finally, on a fade pattern toward the right back pylon, Bray again connected with Waters who made an over the shoulder catch for a 6-yard score with only 17 seconds left in the contest.
Jubilation filled the Tiger sidelines and stands, as the Commerce faithful went wild. It was indeed a finish likened to those of NFL greats such as Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas.
The whole drive was a thing of beauty and precision. The team looked like a well-oiled machine that could and would not be stopped.
Bray’s PAT pass was incomplete leaving the score at (24-20) in one of the greatest final quarter and final second rallies in Tiger history.
The 1989 Tigers went on to post a record of (8-4-0).
The 1984 Commerce game at North Hall resulted in one of the great individual defensive efforts in Tiger history by a Commerce player, a 43-24 victory by the Commerce clad gold and black.
The Tigers’ junior linebacker Chas Hardy recorded a school record 27 tackles in the game 12 of which were unassisted and 15 were assisted tackles. He was a hitting machine all over the field that night. He had many other nights when he accumulated double digit tackles, but on this night he was outstanding.
In his four-year career (1982-85), he recorded a total of 319 tackles as a Tiger linebacker. In 1984 he had 136 tackles and in 1985 he collected 100. In 1985 the Tigers worked their way through the playoffs to the final four before being defeated.
He helped lead the Tigers to records of (9-2-0) and (12-1-0) in his junior and senior seasons.
In his four-year career as a Tiger player, Hardy played tenaciously at his offensive guard spot and was a ferocious hitter as a linebacker for Commerce. He was one of the toughest players ever to don the gold and black.
1981 State Champions
Finally, after having come close on numerous occasions in the 60’s and 70’s, the Tigers under Coach Ray Lamb, got the victory they so greatly desired in winning the Class AA State Football Championship in 1981 by defeating a formidable Greene County team (28-14) enroute to a (13-1-1) season record.
Tiger fans had dreamed of this since Commerce had launched the modern era of Tiger football in 1940. The feeling was indescribable as fans; coaches and players hugged and shook hands on the field and in the field house following the game. The ultimate victory in high school sports now resided in Tigertown.
Senior quarterback Bobby Lamb, now the head football coach of the Furman Paladins, connected on the first three passes he threw and of the four touchdowns scored by the Tigers, he passed for two and ran for two more as approximately 7,000 wide-eyed fans not only from Commerce but many others from north Georgia filled Tiger Stadium to over-flow capacity.
On the Tigers second possession Bobby Lamb proceeded to pick the Greene County defense apart enroute to the first Commerce touchdown. After a 26-yard pass to tight end Terry Howard who tight roped down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds, Lamb rolled right and lofted a TD pass to his split end brother Hal Lamb for the score. Hal was behind the Greene Co. defense and all alone in the end zone for the score. Freshman Todd Lord toed the first of four successful PAT’s on the evening to make it (7-0).
After a Greene punt was gathered in by halfback Delano White, a Greene defender hit him late and the penalty put the Tigers in great field position at the visitors 38.
Fullback Tony Smallwood hit the line for five bursts and 34 yards to set up Bobby Lamb’s one yard sneak behind guard Clay Hendrix, now an assistant football coach at Furman, for the Tigers second tally. Lord’s second PAT put Commerce ahead (14-0) midway through the second period.
Two possessions later, Greene Co. mounted its first sustained drive of the game highlighted by a 41-yard pass from Willie Hill to James “Seed” Miller down to the Commerce 10.
However, Smallwood, playing like a man possessed with extraordinary powers, from his linebacker position came up with three big plays to thwart the drive. On second down, Smallwood stepped into the guard hole and stopped the Greene ball carrier for no gain. On third down, he blitzed up the middle and caused a fumble, which Greene recovered at the six. On fourth down, he sacked Hill for a 14-yard loss, thwarting Green’s only scoring opportunity of the first half.
Commerce then carried the (14-0) lead into the locker room for halftime.
Greene opened the second half determined to put points on the board, as they blitzed down the field primarily behind the passing of Hill down to the Commerce nine where Hill’s second and seven yard pass was intercepted. As free safety Clark Williams stepped in front of the Hill aerial at the goal line, he raced 68 yards before being stopped at the Greene 32. He timed the theft beautifully and bailed his team out of a precarious situation.
On third and four from the 28, Lamb lofted a perfect strike to halfback Delano White streaking down the right sideline for the score at the 7:30 mark of the third period. It was Lamb’s 48th career TD pass. The successful PAT made the score commanding (21-0) lead for Commerce.
Greene’s next possession resulted in another interception, this one by defensive end Terry Howard who leaped at the line of scrimmage and gathered in the pass at the Commerce 40 yard line to stop another attempt by Greene for a score.
Lamb and Company now put a dagger in the throat of Greene County, as they mounted a five play, 60-yard drive behind a 17-yard run by White and a 19-yard pass to Howard which set up the 15-yard option keeper for a TD by Bobby Lamb around left end, as he scampered in standing up with only five ticks left in the third period. Lord’s PAT made it (28-0).
Greene scored on its next possession in the fourth period on a three-yard plunge by Fred Terrell. The PAT pass was successful to cut the Commerce lead to (28-8).
On its next possession, Commerce gave up the ball on downs at the Greene 39. Three plays later Greene scored on an illegal play, the center keep, with center David Thornton racing 49-yards untouched for a TD through the startled and stunned Commerce defense that simply could not find the location of the ball. Neither the Commerce coaches nor the officials knew exactly what happened until the coaches watched the play on film later. However, most Commerce fans and coaches thought that the play had to have been an illegal one and it was.
The PAT pass was incomplete and the score stood at (28-14) with 3:08 to play.
Greene recovered the ensuing onside’s kick at the Commerce 49. Eight plays later, with 1:01 left on the clock, Coach Tom Temple’s Greene County team faced a fourth-and-two situation at the Commerce 28. Hill’s desperation pass was batted down by defensive end Terry Howard at the line of scrimmage giving Commerce the ball and the game.
At that point, it was the greatest game in Tiger history, because it was the one that brought Commerce its first state football championship. Wow! What a game it was.
As hundreds of fans mobbed the field during the final ticks, the chant loud and clear was “We’re Number-One! We’re Number-One!”. Truly they were Number-One not only in the polls but in the hearts of the people of Commerce, Ga.
Others on the 1981 Tiger state championship team were: David Thomas, Greg Davis, Bill Finch, Greg Zak, Daniel Ford, Rodney Bell, Tim Pritchett, Kenny Wood, Brian Hill, Nathan Anderson, John Pittman, Ted Studdard, Vaughn Howington, Taylor Rucker, Allen Adams, Carl McWhorter, Tim Seabolt, Bart Haggard, Dean Hill, Tal Harber, Christopher Howard, Brent Wood, James Walker, Bret Martin, Tommy Vandiver, John Varner, Chris Tarkenton and Bret Haggard.
2000 State Champions
The stadium was packed before 7:00 PM; then by 8:00 PM the Commerce Tigers of Coach Steve Savage rumbled down the big hill in anticipation of racking up its second state football championship at the hands of the highly touted Buford Wolves who wanted revenge for the earlier season defeat by Commerce (18-14) at Buford.
The hill at the concession stand was full, the sideline fence was full, and the scoreboard end zone was full. There were at least 7500 fans on hand to see the two best teams in Class A square off for the last Class A football title game in the 20th century.
The spectators were not to be disappointed, as offense was the name of the game in the first half. The Tigers behind Monte’ Williams bolted out to a (21-0) second period lead and eventually won a thriller (27-19) in what can only be described as a classic before the largest crowd ever to see a football game not only in Commerce but also in Jackson County.
The thunderstorms predicted for the game did not arrive in time to disrupt the game. However, lightning in the form of Monte’ Williams struck four times. “Sweet Feet” electrified the standing-room-only crowd and propelled Commerce to its second state championship, the first having come back in 1981.
On the Tigers second possession, Williams stunned Buford on a 41-yard pass reception from quarterback Michael Collins for the game’s first touchdown, as he literally outran the ball and caught up with it just as he crossed the goal line. Casey Gary plunged over right guard for the two-point conversion for an (8-0) Tiger lead.
Later in the first quarter, Buford punted dead at the Commerce 12. However, Williams brought the crowd to its feet again, as on the next play he dashed up the middle behind the fine line blocking of Stephenson, Flint, Massey, Wilkie and fullback Twion Shealer. After dodging a linebacker, Monte’ cut to his left, turned on the afterburners and then left Buford defenders in the dust as he sprinted 88 yards to glory land. The PAT kick sailed wide leaving Commerce with a (14-0) advantage.
Buford took the ensuing kickoff and in two plays had advanced to the Commerce 43. However, on the next play there was a mad scramble for the fumble by the Buford tailback with Tiger halfback Lee Sorrow recovering at the Commerce 36.
On three successive running plays Williams gained 31 yards down to the Buford 32 as the quarter ended. On the first play of the second stanza, Monte’ bolted over left tackle behind Wilkie and Eason and sprinted untouched into the end zone. Gary’s PAT kick was successful and Commerce now had what they thought was a commanding lead of (21-0).
However, to Buford’s credit the Wolves came to life and cut the Tiger halftime lead to (21-12) when quarterback Travis Payne hit P.K. Sams for a 56-yard TD and shortly thereafter safety Isaac Brown scooped up an errant option pitch from Collins to Williams and scampered in for a 53-yard score.
Taking the second half kickoff, Buford, behind the running of fullback Joey McDonald and halfback Webb Aiken, ran eleven plays before Aiken scored from four yards out. The PAT was good and suddenly the classic game that everyone thought they would see had come to fruition as the Tiger lead now had been cut to (21-19).
However, as grandma used to say, “the cream always rises to the top” and that’s just what the Tiger offense and defense began to do. On the next Commerce drive, the Tigers scored in only five plays and then gave the game to the vaunted Tiger defense.
Collins carried the ball for three consecutive times following the kickoff for a first down, as the rain had now begun to fall on the football faithful of both teams. Enter Monte’ who ran for five yards then brought life back to the Tiger side of the stadium with his spectacular 56-yard twisting, turning, lurching, lunging and dodging run for a touchdown.
Monte’ cut over left tackle, broke three tackles, after which P.K. Sam grabbed his facemask. Williams did a 360, spun out of Sam’s grasp, sidestepped another defender and sprinted into the end zone. Many have classified it as the best run in the year 2000 in the state of Georgia.
However, the missed PAT kick left the Tigers with a precarious lead of (27-19) with four minutes remaining in the third period.
Buford then mounted a short drive, but the dogged Tiger defense hit McDonald hard and the fullback coughed up the ball with Tiger linebacker Nick Cox recovering at midfield to squelch the drive.
The defenses of both teams dominated the fourth quarter, as neither team could mount a sustained scoring drive.
Late in the fourth quarter with Buford on its own seven, the Wolves offense had its opportunity to drive and score, but the Tiger defense was intent on denying the Buford offensive machine a single inch. Tiger defensive back Kyle Moore stepped in front of a Payne pass on the first play of the drive in the right flat and made a great interception. He leaped into the air for the catch. Off balance, he caught the wet pigskin, lost it on the way down, but caught it again with his feet as he landed on his back at the Buford 22. It was a stupendous effort.
The Tigers then ran out the clock and were on the Buford eleven when the game ended. The scoreboard said it all; COMMERCE–27, BUFORD–19. The Tigers were the 2000 STATE CLASS A CHAMPIONS OF GEORGIA.
Commerce had 16 first downs compared to 11 for Buford. The Tigers had 397 yards of total offense, while Buford had 250. Commerce lost only one fumble compared to two for the Wolves. The Tigers threw no interceptions, while the Commerce defense picked off two from the Buford quarterback. The four Buford turnovers to the opportunistic Tiger defense helped seal Buford’s fate.
Indeed what a great team effort the 2000 Tigers gave. They beat Lincoln County twice; they beat Buford twice; arguably the two best teams in Class A other than the mighty Commerce Tigers.
Wow! What a great year and a great team and one that will always be remembered as one of the greatest Tiger teams in Commerce’s illustrious 62 years of football history.
With his 287 yards and four touchdowns in the state championship game, Monte’ Williams ended his high school career as the Georgia rushing record holder with 8844 total rushing yards, and 105 total touchdowns scored. Robert Toomer of Worth County held the previous Georgia rushing record with 7868 yards. Williams eclipsed Toomer’s old record by almost 1000 yards.
Tiger Tales (70) was primarily compiled from “Athens Daily News” reports
In 1999 Tiger split end Michael Collins became only the second Commerce player to return the opening kickoff of a game for a touchdown when he ran back the Jefferson kickoff to begin the game 83 yards for a touchdown. He fielded the ball at his 17-yard line near the Commerce bench and weaved his way across the middle of the field and toward the Dragon sideline as he sprinted untouched across the goal line for the score.
Collins also scored on two other occasions in the game on a 34-yard pass from quarterback Daniel Carder and a 48-yard run from scrimmage.
Commerce eventually won the game by a score of (56-27).
In 1965 Commerce halfback Max Carnes ran not only the opening kickoff of a game against Stephens County back for a 75-yard TD, but it was also the opening kickoff of the season.
Mighty Lincoln County paraded their Red Devils into Commerce in 2000 having won all five games that Commerce and Lincoln County had played dating back to the first one, a (13-6) LC win in Commerce in 1986. In 2000, this group of demons through three quarters had built a (15-0) advantage, however the determined and never-say-die Tigers played like gangbusters in the final stanza to snatch a (16-15) victory away from defeat with a two minute drive and a last second field goal with no time left on the clock to shock the devils and thrill the exhuberant Tiger supporters.
Early in the contest Lincoln County had built a (7-0) lead following the recovery of a Twion Shealer fumble at the LC 35 when two plays later, wide receiver turned quarterback Ricky Stokes took a naked bootleg around left end and outraced the Tiger defense 57 yards to paydirt with 6:20 to play in the initial period. The PAT kick was good and the Red Devils had jumped out front of the Tigers once more, as they had in the previous five games with Commerce.
The Tiger offense could muster only 66 yards of total offense in the first half, as the dogged Red Devil defense stymied and shut down Monte’ Williams, Michael Collins and company at every turn.
With 1:22 left in the first half, Lincoln County capped a three-play drive for its second and final TD of the evening when Stokes passed to Casey Colvin over the middle for a 39-yard touchdown. Darien Freeman’s two-point conversion run increased the Red Devil lead to (15-0) at the half, as the hopes of Tiger fans began to fade.
Lincoln County then took the second half kickoff and methodically marched from the LC 20 to the Commerce seven yard line. Three holding penalties against the Red Devils on the drive, two of which occurred at the Commerce thirteen and six yard stripes eventually forced three passes by LC to fail with the Tigers taking over at the Commerce 17. This drive had consumed 9:09 of the third period in 19 plays.
However, the Commerce defense had risen to the occasion to give the offense one more opportunity to get into gear if it was going to have an opportunity to get back into the game. Get back into the game the Commerce Tigers did, as they scored on each of their final three possessions of the contest.
Williams, on the first play of the fourth quarter, climaxed a 7-play, 83-yard drive with a fabulous 22-yard run around left end on an acrobatic effort, as he weaved in and out of LC defenders and was able to balance himself on the ground with his hand before straightening himself at the 15-yard line and streaking into the end zone for the Tigers’ first tally of the night. The option pitch on the two-point conversion was bad and the score remained at (15-6) with 11:52 left in this CLASSIC BOUT between Class A football powers.
Five plays following the kickoff, LC punted dead at the Tiger 49 with 9:03 left in the contest. Highlighted by Williams’ runs of 12 and 23 yards, the latter a dandy around right end to the LC four set up Collins one-yard run over right tackle to put Commerce a touchdown closer. Casey Gary’s PAT was good and with 5:42 remaining the resurgent Tigers had cut the Red Devil lead to (15-13).
Lincoln County then punched out two first downs all on the ground and used up 3:11 on the clock, before the Tiger defensive end Gary stuffed a third and three run for no gain at the Tiger 48 forcing the LC kicker to punt
29-yards out of bounds at the Tiger 19. Commerce now faced 81 yards of real estate to cover with only 2:31 of clock to manage. Tiger faithful were in a fever pitch and nerves were raw.
With Collins and Company facing third and nine at the Commerce 20, the senior signal caller faded to pass then found a seam in the LC defense and scrambled up the middle for 20 yards and a first down at the Commerce 40 as Tiger hopes began to rise.
Two plays later, a face mask penalty on Collins option keeper around left end moved the ball to the Red Devil 39. Williams then pounded left end for eight and blockers led him over right end for nine more to the 22 with only 31 ticks left on the clock.
However, two plays thereafter, Collins was sacked for an eight-yard loss forcing him to go under center and spike the ball to stop the clock with only 9 seconds left setting up Casey Gary’s fourth down do-or-die 47-yard field goal. The stadium was now in an uproar and at a fever pitch on both sides. Drama the likes of this had not been seen at Tiger Stadium in many a year.
Rob Brown snapped the ball to Lee Sorrow who placed it on the tee. Gary’s toe hit the ball but it fell 15 yards shy and a fearful sigh of was heard in the Tiger stands. The rally had fallen just short.
But NO, NO!! Gary had been roughed by a charging defender from the left side of the LC defense. Cheers abounded from the Tiger faithful. Lincoln County was penalized 15 yards for roughing the kicker down to the Red Devil 15 giving Gary one more shot at glory with 2.3 seconds left on the clock. The snap was true, the placement was perfect, and as toe met leather this time, Gary boomed the 36-yard kick high and long through the uprights with no time left on the clock giving Commerce the victory in what will go down as the GREATEST TIGER COMEBACK VICTORY in the 61-year history of Commerce football.
Gary’s kick into the night capped a furious Commerce fourth quarter rally, as the Tigers had roared back from a (15-0) deficit in the final quarter for the win. A (16-15) victory in glorious fashion had come to Tigertown and left the city’s residents talking for weeks to come. It was a CLASSIC!!!
Williams, held to 35 yards in the first half, rallied for 102 in the final half with 82 yards coming in the furious fourth quarter, and he also scored the first Tiger touchdown of the evening. Collins added 54 yards on fourteen carries for the night and one TD.
The Tiger offensive line played a fantastic second half. They were: center–Adam Stephenson, guards–Tommy Eason and Taylor Massey, tackles–Kenny Flint and Chris Wilkie and tight end Rob Brown. They blew the LC defenders off the ball in the fourth quarter, as the larger Red Devils began to tire.
The defense also played in fabulous fashion especially in the second half. Nicholas Cox had nine tackles, Casha Daniels added ten, while Collins and Gary had 17 each in one of their greatest defensive efforts in their four year careers as Tiger starters. Evan Crawford, Scott White, and Justin David also played well in the interior defensive line. Kyle Moore, Lee Sorrow and Charlie Epps also accounted themselves well. It was indeed a team effort.
In what would later be a state championship year in 2000. Commerce later would defeat LC again in the Georgia Dome and also Buford twice, first for the region title and the final win coming in Commerce enabling the Tigers to wear the Class A state football crown enroute to a (13-2) record.
Partially compiled from ATHENS DAILY NEWS reports.