COMMERCE — The Commerce Tigers were riding a recent hot streak and hoping to move up in the district standings, but those hopes were dashed in a 57-20 drubbing at the hands of the Rains Wildcats Friday night in District 5-3A1 action.
The regular season-finale served as a tiebreaker between the two teams, as the winner would grab third place in the district standings, while the loser would drop down to the fourth and final playoff spot.
Things got off on the wrong foot for the Tigers, as the Wildcats’ Drake Hurley capped off a drive that lasted barely a minute with a nine-yard touchdown run to get Rains on the board first with a 7-0 lead. Commerce was flagged three times on that drive.
Both teams struggled on offense for the rest of the quarter. The Tigers drove down inside Rains’ 30 yard line, but the drive stalled and they turned the ball over on downs with less than four minutes left in the frame.
On their next drive, the Wildcats had a touchdown called back on a holding penalty, but were threatening to score near the goal line as the quarter ended.
Rains got their second touchdown on the first play of the second quarter, with quarterback Luke Sheppard keeping it himself and running in for a four-yard score.
Commerce lost their chance to answer back when Xzay Basham lost a fumble on the first play after forcing Rains to punt. Less than a minute after that, the Wildcats scored again on a run by Hurley.
The Tigers turned the ball over on downs again on their next possession, but Rains had two more touchdowns called back on penalties and settled for a 22-yard field goal from Andrew Balthrop after the Tigers held strong inside the 10 yard line.
At the end of the quarter, Commerce answered with a 22-yard field goal of their own from Rueben Casteneda, and went to halftime down 24-3.
Things went from bad to worse in the second half. Following a drive where they turned over on downs again inside the opponent’s 30 yard line, Casteneda booted another field goal through the uprights, this time from 39 yards out. But on the ensuing kickoff, Brye Kelley took the return 90 yards to the house for a score.
When Commerce got the ball back, a lateral from quarterback J’Den Wilson to Kendrick Greer went awry, and the Wildcats recovered the fumble. Another scoring run by Sheppard took the wind out of the sails of the home crowd at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers were down 37-6 after three quarters of play, after once again turning over on downs near the end of the frame.
Following another Rains’ score, things started to turn the Tigers’ way, as they broke into the end zone for the first time on an eight-yard scoring run by Wilson.
On the next possession, Greer recovered a fumble by Mason Griffin, giving Commerce another crack at a score. Xzay Basham broke through for his longest run of the game, a 41-yard touchdown.
But there was no comeback in order. The Wildcats added a touchdown on their next drive, and then put the final nail in the coffin when Wilson fumbled the ball inside Tiger territory. Mason Songer originally scooped up the loose ball and began to run it back, but he lost the ball as well before it was picked up by defensive lineman Bryce Manning, who ran the ball in for a touchdown.
That was all for the scoring. Commerce turned over on downs inside of the Wildcats’ 30 yard line for the third time and the fifth T.O.D. overall in the final minutes, sealing the 57-20 victory for Rains.
The Tigers actually outgained the Wildcats in total offensive yardage 385 to 351, but had three turnovers to Rains’ one, and gave up many short field situations that the visiting team capitalized on. The Wildcats overcame 17 penalties for 120 yards, including three touchdowns that were called back on infractions, to take the victory.
Rains quarterback Sheppard had a solid game, completing four of 11 passes for 83 yards while running 12 times for 32 yards and two touchdowns. Songer was the leading rusher, with 113 yards and a score on 18 rushes. Hurley scored twice on six runs and compiled 54 yards on the ground. Backup quarterback Balthrop came into the game late, completing three of four passes for 48 yards and also running for a touchdown. In addition, Balthrop converted a 22-yard field goal and was successful on six of eight point after attempts. Kelley had a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown and Manning had a fumble return touchdown.
The Tigers attempted to win the game through the air more than any other game this season. Quarterback J’Den Wilson went 15-for-35 for 252 yards. He also ran 21 times for 30 yards, one touchdown and one lost fumble. Basham led the team with 74 rushing yards, a score and a lost fumble on 13 carries, while Greer picked up 35 yards and also lost a fumble on five carries. Brad Caldwell was the top receiving target, catching five passes for 122 yards. Conner Smith had four catches for 55 yards. Casteneda converted both a 22 and 39 yard field goal on the night.
Commerce Head Coach Cody Farrell was succinct in his assessment of Friday’s game.
“They just whooped us up and down, and you can put that in the paper,” Farrell said. “They were the more physical team, they were the tougher team and they were the better team tonight.”
The loss sees Commerce fall to 4-6 on the season and 3-3 in district play, while Rains improves to 6-4 and 4-2 in district.
The playoff field is set, and the Tigers have a big test ahead of them as they will move on to face No. 3-ranked Malakoff in the first round. The Wildcats will face Dallas Madison.
Commerce's game against Malakoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 at Terrell Memorial Stadium in Terrell, Texas.