Following a 57-20 defeat in the season finale against the Rains Wildcats, the Commerce High School Tiger football will open the UIL 3A1 Playoffs against the No. 3 state-ranked Malakoff Tigers Friday night in Terrell.
Last Friday's contest against Rains was a struggle, with the Tigers gaining more yards on offense than their opponent, but turning the ball over three times and allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown on the night.
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.
The Tigers 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 Luke Sheppard had a solid game, completing four of 11 passes for 83 yards while running 12 times for 32 yards and two touchdowns. Mason 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 Andrew 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. Brye Kelley had a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown and Bryce 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. Xzay Basham led the team with 74 rushing yards, a score and a lost fumble on 13 carries, while Kendrick 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. Rueben Casteneda converted both a 22 and 39 yard field goal on the night.
The loss saw 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.
The Malakoff Tigers were champions of District 6-3A1, finishing with a 9-1 overall record and a perfect 5-0 mark in district play. The Tigers only loss was a 14-13 defeat to the Grandview Zebras, the No. 2-ranked team in the state.
To say that Malakoff is the biggest test for Commerce in a while might be an understatement. Averaging an eye-popping 50.5 points per game, the Tigers feature one of the most potent offenses in 3A football. They have won their games by an average margin of victory of 46.2.
Malakoff has had a great recent run of success, having won at least eight games every season since 2009. The Tigers were State runners-up last year and made it to the State semifinals in 2016.
Commerce will face Malakoff in the Bi-District round of the UIL playoffs on Nov. 15 at Terrell Memorial Stadium, located at 1300 West Moore Ave. in Terrell, Texas. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.