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 The game was delayed for a short time after half of the lights at Memorial Stadium suddenly shut off for an unknown reason late in the third quarter. 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.
Edgar Castillo redeemed an earlier field goal miss with a booming 65-yard punt that pinned Howe back at its five yard line late in the fourth quarter with the game tied up at 14-14. On the very next play, the snap was low and the ball rolled around in the end zone as both teams scrambled to recover. Freshman Kendrick 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. Jalen 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. Layton Elvington got the scoring started with an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Commerce quarterback J’Den 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. Wade 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 move on to face longtime rival Bonham on the road this Friday.
The two teams have a long history, with this week’s matchup being the 65th meeting between the squads. The first game between Commerce and Bonham was played in 1917, and following last year’s 63-27 win in Commerce, the Purple Warriors broke the tie to take a 32-31-1 lead in the all-time series. The win also broke a five-game winning streak for the Tigers over Bonham.
The Warriors come into this game sporting a record of 1-7 and a district mark of 0-4, sitting in last place in District 5-3A1. This is a far cry from last year’s effort, where Bonham finished second in district before being bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
Scoring has been at a premium for the Warriors, having put just 147 points on the board while giving up 398, the most in the district by more than 100 points. Their defense had failed to hold opposing teams to less than 40 points until last week, only allowing 14 points but still falling to Lone Oak.
The Commerce Tigers will face the Bonham Warriors on Nov. 1 at Warrior Stadium, located at 1100 Nolan Ashmore Way in Bonham. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.