COMMERCE — It’s not one of the traditional rivalries in northeast Georgia. In fact, when Commerce travels to Hartwell on Friday to take on Hart County, it will mark just the second time since 1985 the two programs have met.
But what the series lacks in quantity it is more than making up for in stoutness. The Tigers took a tough 33-20 victory in 2018 in Commerce.
This year, the Tigers (2-0) come in already rolling behind their bruising triple-option offense having taken down Class 4A West Hall (48-17) and fellow Region 8-A foe Athens Christian (49-7). The 97 points is the most in the first two games of a season for a Commerce team in nearly half a century. The 1966 squad scored 103 in its opening two contests.
The Bulldogs (2-0) also come in hot after wins over projected playoff teams Elbert County (39-7) and Stephens County (26-13) to open the season. Hart County was a preseason favorite in several polls to win a deep Region 8-3A. They are not disappointing so far.
Commerce coach Michael Brown was not shy in his assessment of the Bulldogs.
“This will probably be the toughest team we face all year, no matter how far we get,” he said. “Their linebackers are good; their (D-line) is good; they have a strong secondary. Their offense is very multiple and can hurt you in so many ways. They have a very physical run game. Their tight end (Cane Berrong, 6-foot-4, 225 lbs; Notre Dame-commit) I think is the No. 1 prospect in the nation at his position as a junior.
“Nothing is going to come easy, that’s for sure. This will be a great test for us.”
Against Stephens County, the Bulldogs, who are averaging over 300 yards a game on the ground, got big games from junior Malachi Thomas, who had 118 yards and a TD on 26 carries, and J’len Lackey, who had 122 yards and 2 TDs on just 14 carries last week. The Tigers, however, also are averaging over 300 yards rushing on the season.
The key will be if a young undersized Commerce group can find a way to hold its own against a bigger Hart County line.
“The key in most every game is in the trenches and for this game that will certainly be the case,” Brown said. “We have to be able to maintain our blocks on offense and on defense we have to be able to shed their blockers. It won’t be easy but our guys know how to battle.”
Commerce senior quarterback Nate Ray could be the X-factor for the Tigers.
“Nate has been here three years and knows the offense. He understands when to give it and when to keep it,” Brown said. “Again, if we can hold our blocks an extra second or two and Nate can make the correct reads, we have a chance.
“We never go into a game thinking we don’t have a chance. There is probably no doubt that we’re considered an underdog in this one. We’re okay with that. This is just another stop on the journey for this team.”
COMMERCE at HART COUNTY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Pete Herndon Stadium, Hartwell
-- COMMERCE (2-0, 0-0 Region 8-A): Ranked No. 5 in Class A Public; defeated Athens Christian 49-7 last week
-- HART COUNTY (2-0, 0-0 Region 8-3A): Defeated Stephens County 26-13 last week
-- NOTABLE: Commerce leads series 12-2-1. The Tigers won 33-20 in 2018 in Commerce. Last year’s meeting was the first since 1985. ... Commerce extended its unbeaten streak over the Bulldogs to 13 last year. The last Hart County win in the series came in 1955 in Hartwell ... Both teams come in having rolled over their first two opponents. Hart County has outscored its first two opponents 65-20 while the Tigers have outscored their first two opponents 97-24. ... The Bulldogs are 2-0 for the first time since 2015. ... The Tigers are looking for their fourth straight 3-0 start.