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Tough opponent awaits Commerce in first round of state playoffs
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Commerce High football coach Steve Savage discusses the Tigers' upcoming playoff game aginst Wilkinson County on Friday.

Commerce High football coach Steve Savage is in a very familiar place: the Class A state playoffs.

“We kind of expect to be there,” he said. “Looking back through history, we probably haven’t missed the playoffs but three years.”

So it’s no surprise to Savage, in his 20th season as Commerce’s head coach this year, that his Tigers are making a 116-mile trip for their 12th straight playoff appearance against Region 7-A No. 2 seed Wilkinson County on Friday.

Commerce (5-5, 4-2 Region 8-A) can thank a three-game winning streak late in the season for another playoff berth in its extensive history. Before the streak began, the Tigers were 2-5 overall and 1-2 in region play. Making playoffs was far from a sure thing midway through the season.

Then a light came on for Commerce in its 47-7 win against Lakeview Academy on Oct. 24, and it lasted the rest of the season. The Tigers defeated Social Circle 21-7 and Prince Avenue Christian 22-12 the following weeks, not only clinching a playoff spot, but bumping them up to the No. 3 seed. That helped Commerce avoid another match-up against highly ranked Lincoln County, the Region 7-A champion and a team that beat the Tigers 35-6 earlier this year.

But avoiding the top seed in the opposing region hasn’t made things much easier for Commerce. Though not state-ranked, Wilkinson County’s numbers are similar to those of Lincoln County. The Warriors (7-3, 4-1 Region 7-A) enter Friday’s game averaging 31.8 points per game while allowing only 9.1. The only team Commerce has faced with less points allowed is Wesleyan, which defeated the Tigers 33-7.

“They’re a tough opponent,” Savage said. “They’re not one of the teams we would like to be playing in the first round.”

According to Savage, Wilkinson County’s biggest assets are its speed and its offensive variety. He calls them “the fastest team we have faced this year,” and unlike Commerce itself, which thrives on a consistent running game, the Warriors are difficult to predict, and are a threat both passing and running.

“They have every formation known to man,” Savage said. “They’re very multiple. They can have three backs on one play or no backs on the next.”

With so many different formations to prepare for, Savage has found an easier way to prepare his team than memorize every play. Rather than teach his scout team Wilkinson County’s difficult offense or expose his team to hours of film, he is basing this week’s practices simple: Stick to the schedule and remember the fundamentals.

“We went back to doing that (Monday) with blocking and tackling drills,” Savage said. “Our Monday practice has been the same all year long.”

And with fundamentals in mind, those attending Friday’s game can expect the same offensive style they have seen the Tigers use all season: Run the football and own the clock.

“We would like to be able to keep the football on the ground, grind out yardage and grind down the clock,” Savage said. “If we don’t, they’ll use that tremendous speed on offense.”

But regardless how the game turns out for Commerce, more stories of success will be added to the history of a football team with roots of success dating back 60 years ago.

“This is certainly not our best football team, but this team is definitely good enough to be in the playoffs,” Savage said.

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