COMMERCE — Two years ago, Commerce outplayed Irwin County for 47 minutes before a wild finish dealt the Tigers heartbreak in south Georgia.
Friday night at Tiger Stadium, it looked like fate would return the favor to the Tigers against the defending champion Indians.
And after converting twice on fourth down on its final drive in the final minutes and moving to the Irwin County 19, Commerce was one more 3-yard fourth-down attempt from pulling the upset. But the Indians defense stopped the Tigers’ Sammy Brown for one of the rare times all night a yard short to preserve a 25-21 win in the Class A Public quarterfinals.
Brown had a huge game for Commerce (11-2) piling up 221 yards and touchdown runs of 26 and 77 yards as the Tigers battled back from an early 13-0 deficit.
And has been the case in the playoffs, Commerce dominated the second half. They held the Indians, who led 25-14 at the break, scoreless over the final 24 minutes, including getting a crucial stop when Irwin County missed a short field goal with 6:28 left in the game.
But a rough start for Commerce was the eventual difference. Irwin County struck quickly when quarterback Cody Soliday connected on an 80-yard bomb to Gabe Benyard on the first play of the game for a 7-0 lead.
Commerce was poised to answer right back driving to the Indians 5, but the Tigers were stopped on another fourth down play. The Indians capitalized when Kam Ward capped the long drive with a short touchdown run early in the second quarter.
The Tigers finally got going when Brown rambled 26 yards for a score less than two minutes later to cut the lead to 13-7. That came after Brown had put them in scoring position with a 31-yard run.
Irwin answered that with Soliday’s second TD pass to Benyard, this time from 23-yards to push the lead back to 19-7. Brown then converted on a third down with an electrifying 77-yard sprint to the end zone to trim the lead to 19-14. But the Indians were not done as Soliday found Bryce Clements wide open near the goal line for a 26-yard TD pass and a 25-14 halftime lead.
Commerce stormed out of the break driving 65 yards, capped by a 5-yard touchdown run from Dreylan Martin, to make it 25-21 with 8:38 left in the third quarter. Fate again looked to favor the Tigers when Benyard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown moments later was called back for holding.
But both defenses would come up with big stops on third and fourth downs over the final 20-plus minutes to keep both offenses at bay.
Martin finished with 58 yards rushing and quarterback Trey Huff had 45 yards on the ground for the Tigers.
Irwin County (10-3) moves on to play Metter in the Class A Public semifinals next week.