EDGEWOOD — The Commerce Tigers nearly grabbed a victory at the final horn but fell by a score of 28-23 to the Edgewood Bulldogs in non-district action Friday night at Edgewood's James Memorial Stadium.
There was much buzz surrounding this year’s Tiger squad, with an entirely new spread offense being implemented by new coordinator Yogi Gallegos. There was also a question as to who would start at quarterback. J’Den Wilson, who started game one of the 2018 season at QB before being moved to receiver, was once again given the nod in the season opener. Brad Caldwell, who finished out the rest of the season as the quarterback, swapped places with Wilson, lining up at receiver for most of the night.
The difference in the offensive scheme was evident right away, as Wilson attempted five passes before a single running play was called, something unheard of in the Tigers’ previous system.
But the new offense did not immediately bring success, as Wilson struggled to connect with his receivers. However, the Tiger defense held the normally potent Bulldog attack. A long drive for Edgewood ended at the Tigers’ 12 yard line as they turned it over on downs, giving a big boost to the Commerce D. Both teams ended the first quarter knotted up at 0-0.
Close to halfway through the second quarter, the game was still scoreless. The momentum almost swung in Edgewood’s favor, as a Bulldog punt was not cleanly returned by the Tigers. A mass of humanity followed a bouncing ball toward the sidelines before Caldwell could fall on it and save face.
This turned out to be big, as just a few plays later, Xzay Basham broke through an opening and scampered 68 yards down the sideline for a score, giving the Tigers the lead.
Not to be outdone, the Bulldogs stood tough and answered on their next drive, capped off by a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback Trey McPherson. A successful two-point conversion put the home team ahead by a point.
Things seemed to begin to unravel as Wilson lobbed a ball right into the arms of Edgewood’s Jacob Perez on the ensuing drive. With less than a minute left in the half, the Bulldogs extended their lead with a touchdown pass from McPherson to the aforementioned Perez. The Tigers were down 16-7 as they broke for halftime.
As the third frame began, there was more bad news for Commerce. Bulldog kick returner Sebastian Holdman ran the second-half kickoff back seventy-five yards to the house to put Edgewood up by 15. It seemed as if they had the Tigers on the ropes.
After a three and out, Commerce was forced to punt the ball away. But on the return, Caldwell laid down a crushing tackle that sent the ball flying out of the return man’s hands. Commerce recovered the ball and had great field position. The Tigers couldn’t parlay that into a touchdown, but Rueben Casteneda hit a 24-yard field goal to bring the score to 22-10.
On the next drive, Kyle Keltner, who had been a workhorse for the Bulldogs all night, fumbled the ball while fighting for a first down, and the Tigers pounced and recovered their second loose ball of the night. Soon after, Basham broke free for another huge score, this time going 56 yards in a single run for a touchdown. After the third quarter horn sounded, Commerce now trailed by five points.
Some hard back-and-forth play ensued. Keltner had a monster drive, taking the ball nine out of the 10 plays on an Edgewood drive that crucially ate up tons of clock. Keltner finished with a six-yard scoring run that brought the deficit back to two scores. Time was running out on Commerce.
But the Tigers battled back and answered, posting an emphatic drive of their own that culminated in a five-yard romp into the end zone by Dayton Dunbar with just under three minutes to play.
Next came a crucial onside kick. The kick by Edgar Castillo took a good bounce, and when a scrum of players fighting for the ball was cleared, Commerce was given possession. However, this was wiped out by an offsides penalty on the Tigers, forcing them to rekick. On the second try, the result was not the same and the Bulldogs had possession of the ball.
Commerce did have all three of its timeouts remaining, which hampered Edgewood’s efforts to run out the clock. The Bulldogs could not get a first down that would have sealed the result and were forced to punt it away to the Tigers, giving them about 30 seconds to work their magic, and magic was put on display.
First, a 14-yard strike from Wilson to Brandon Turner, then a 30-yard run by Wilson set the Tigers up at about the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line with just six seconds remaining.
Wilson heaved one final pass into the end zone. The ball headed for Caldwell, who outstretched his arms, but only could get fingertips on it due to stingy defense by Edgewood. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground, and the game was over. Edgewood had survived the Tiger onslaught by the skin of their teeth.
Edgewood had great production all night from running back Keltner, who was a workhorse, gaining 182 yards on 33 carries scoring a touchdown while also losing a fumble. Quarterback McPherson had a solid night, picking up 34 yards and a score on nine carries, while completing five of seven passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Perez had a big night, with an interception and a receiving touchdown on consecutive drives.
Commerce quarterback Wilson struggled through the air, completing just eight of his 25 passes for 74 yards and an interception, but added 50 yards on the ground on seven carries. Basham was a big play threat, scoring twice on the ground and amassing 150 yards on just eight rushes. Dunbar proved to be a strong ground option, gaining 71 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
While Commerce could not get the win, Head Coach Cody Farrell had high praise for his team following their performance.
“We were really so dang close,” Farrell said. “I’m proud of them, because at any point in the game, they were always in it to win this thing.”
“Winning is learned, and these guys got close to feeling that,” Farrell said.
This was the sixth consecutive season these two team had faced each other. Commerce took three-straight victories from 2014 to 2016, while the Bulldogs have now won the previous three matchups.
The loss drops the Tigers to 0-1 on the young season, while Edgewood improves to 1-0. The Bulldogs will next face Caddo Mills on the road while Commerce travels to Leonard next week.