The Commerce Tigers pulled victory from the jaws of defeat after two fourth-quarter scores to grab a 20-14 win against Howe in District 5-3A1 play Friday.
A constant steady rain pelted the field all night Friday, which caused trouble for ball carriers as there was a combined six turnovers in the game, with Commerce coughing the ball up four times and the Bulldogs twice.
The game looked early on like it would be a strong performance by the Tigers, as their defense held tough and they were moving the ball on offense. However, any offensive momentum was stifled early on by a pair of Commerce fumbles less than halfway through the first quarter. Even with this advantage, Howe still could not score as their offense sputtered.
The Bulldogs managed to get on the board first, but not on offense. A pass from Tiger quarterback J’Den Wilson was picked off by Layton Elvington and ran back 80 yards to the house. At the end of the first quarter the Bulldogs sported a 7-0 lead.
Commerce had their best chance to score with the ball at the two yard line early in the second frame, but a holding call moved the team back and they could not break through. A 27-yard field goal attempt from Edgar Castillo was no good and the Tigers were still scoreless. Add another lost fumble to the mix and things were not going well for Commerce.
The Tigers got some much needed momentum as Wade Nicholson picked off a Bulldog pass late in the half. But they could not score and entered the locker room at halftime down 7-0.
Fortunes shifted from grim to bright for Commerce early in the second half. How early? The first play from scrimmage.
From the 30 yard line, Wilson lined up in a shotgun formation and saw the snap go clear over his head. He picked it up on a bounce at roughly the 10, evaded a tackler, found a hole and scampered the rest of the way for what goes down as a 70 yard touchdown which amped up those in attendance in orange and black. The ensuing extra point was not converted, so Commerce was still down 7-6.
Howe answered with their best offensive drive of the game, marching down the field and finally scoring on a 10-yard run by Jalen Thornton. But what happened later in the quarter was truly bizarre.
The game was delayed for a short time after half of the lights at Memorial Stadium suddenly shut off for an unknown reason. Following a brief delay, officials determined that there was enough visibility to play and resumed the game, with the lights coming fully back on minutes later.
In the darkness, the Tigers marched down the field, getting into enemy territory as the third quarter ended with the Bulldogs clinging to a 14-6 advantage.
While the lights returning to normal, Commerce’s offense once again lit up as freshman Kendrick Greer bowled ahead for a 19-yard touchdown run on the first play of the quarter. A successful two-point conversion by Brad Caldwell knotted the game at 14-14.
Both teams struggled to get the go-ahead score as time wound down. With just over three minutes left, however, the tides turned in Commerce’s favor for good.
Castillo redeemed his earlier miss with a booming 65-yard punt that pinned Howe back at its five yard line. On the very next play, the snap was low and the ball rolled around in the end zone as both teams scrambled to recover. Greer fell on the ball for the game-winning score, as well as his second touchdown of the quarter. Following a botched extra point, the score was 20-14 Tigers.
Commerce’s defense held out in the final minutes, forcing the Bulldogs to turnover on downs with just over a minute to play to seal the victory.
Commerce dominated the game offensively, gaining 406 total yards while the defense only allowed 181, but turnovers where what cause issues for the Tigers as they coughed the ball up four times to just two from Howe.
Freshman quarterback Austin Haley led the Bulldogs through the air, finishing 7-of-14 for 107 yards and an interception. He was sacked three times for a total loss of 25 yards on the night by the strong Tiger defense. Thornton was his team’s leading rusher, gaining 48 yards and scoring a touchdown on a heavy load of 22 carries. Caiden Harmon ran the ball four times for 43 yards and caught five passes for 58 yards. Elvington got the scoring started with an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Commerce quarterback Wilson struggled in the passing game, completing just one pass for 17 yards and an interception in six attempts. He more than made up for it on the ground, gaining 66 yards and scoring once on nine carries while also losing a fumble. Xzay Basham was kept out of the end zone but led all players with 201 rushing yards on 25 carries, but he lost two fumbles on the night. Dayton Dunbar gained 76 yards on nine rushes, while Greer carried the ball six times for 28 yards and a score while also being credited with a fumble return touchdown on the game-winning score. Nicholson picked off a pass during the game.
Commerce Head Coach Cody Farrell said he had mixed emotions following the game, as he knows the team will have many mistakes to fix down the stretch.
“We gained a lot of yards on offense but we turned the ball over too much,” Farrell said. “But the guys found a way to win, and that’s all that matters in the end.”
Farrell credited his kicker Castillo on the late punt that set up the final score, saying that “The punt by Edgar was the play of the game probably. Special teams came through. I’m proud of how they played through and got the win.”
The win brings the Tigers to 3-5 on the season and 2-2 in district play, while Howe falls to 3-6 overall and 2-3 in district. Most importantly, Commerce now moves into fourth place in District 5-3A1, a playoff spot, with two games remaining. The Tigers will next travel to face Bonham while the Bulldogs will finish their season next week against Van Alstyne at home.