It will be a ‘Battle of Tigers’ on Friday night in Greensboro as the Greene County football team hosts visiting Commerce.
It will be both program’s first GHSA Region 8 A-Public contest.
Greene County (3-1) is coming off a bye week while Commerce (2-2) knocked off Mount Paran Christian 20-13 in a non-region matchup.
Last season, Commerce upended Greene County 35-0 behind the strong rushing performance by freshman Sammy Brown. The Tigers, then coached by Mike Brown, went on to finish the 2020 season with an overall record of 12-2. Commerce made a deep run in the state playoffs before being eliminated by eventual state champion Irwin County.
Nevertheless, the Tigers’ roster had some turnover in the offseason as both Brown and his father transferred to rival Jefferson. Now, first-year head coach Mark Hollars is tasked with restoring Commerce to greatness. Under Hollars, the Tigers are going through some growing pains as they are still installing an offensive game plan. Commerce’s two wins this season have come against Banks County (10-0) and the aforementioned Mount Paran matchup.
Jackson Herald Today sports editor Kyle Funderbunk acknowledged Commerce’s offensive struggles.
“For starters, they have a good but not great defense with an inconsistent offense,” Funderbunk told the Lake Oconee News. “They struggle on offenses because of the loss of Sammy Brown and Trey Huff. Both transferred after huge seasons last year.”
Despite losing a few key players from a season ago, Funderbunk said that the Tigers still have some athletes.
“Players to watch this year are running backs Dreylan Martin, Jaiden Daniels and Malachi Shockey,” he added. “Daniels is the most talented, although he's still a freshman.”
Commerce has primarily been a triple/read-option team throughout the past couple of years, but Hollars is still experimenting with the play-calling.
“Commerce is tinkering with the offense,” Funderbunk said. “They'll run a flexbone triple like most teams, but they mixed in some I-bone last week and it seemed to have a big impact.”
In the Tigers’ two losses, the defense has given us 37 (Pickens County) and 27 (Elbert County) points, respectively.
Can Milligan prove to be the Tiger King?
No, Greene County head coach Larry Milligan isn’t Netflix star ‘Joe Exotic.’
However, he can become Exotic’s mantra as the “Tiger King” on Friday night if his team can topple Commerce.
Greene County is coming off a bye week following an emotional win over Jasper County.
The Tigers led the ‘Canes until midway through the fourth quarter when a couple of points led to them giving up the lead. It took a miracle for Greene County to beat Jasper County, but it happened as quarterback DJ Smith connected with tailback Kalik Brown on 4th-and-23 for the score.
Despite getting the victory, Greene County had a few turnovers that proved to be costly. That and senseless penalties are something that the Tigers need to fix moving forward as they head into region play.
Milligan emphasized that the bye week really helped condition his team.
“The main thing was getting everybody’s bodies rested and treating some nagging injuries,” Milligan said. “We had a couple of linemen that had some ankle-type injuries and some other guys had some bruises and wounds that needed to heal.”
Greene County needs every player if it wants to make a run at capturing the Region 8 A Public title, which is the goal for the season.
“Those goals won’t change unless we get beat a couple of times,” Milligan said. “As of right now, our goal is to still win the region, and it starts with the next game.”
Last year, Commerce went undefeated in league play and captured the region title. This season, however, will be tough for a program that is adjusting to a new offensive system under a first-year head coach. So, Greene County has a legitimate shot if the mistakes can be cleaned up.
“I think our defensive side of the ball has gotten a lot better and it has kept us in games,” Milligan said. “The personnel changes that occurred in the offseason really helped. That’s probably the biggest thing and it can help us moving forward because we are going to face some stout offenses in region play.”
Besides Greene County and Commerce, Region 8 Class A Public features Social Circle (3-2), Lincoln County (3-2), Towns County (4-1) and Washington-Wilkes (4-1). The latter two programs are heavily favored to compete for the region title, but the Tigers have a chance.
“The teams we’ve beaten so far aren’t great football teams,” Milligan said. “We are still really unproven against a really good team.”
Greene’s offensive struggles
The Tigers’ offense, which has been struggling as of late, needs to be more consistent in region play.
“The No. 1 thing is that we need to stop beating ourselves, especially on offense,” Milligan said. “On offense, we’re either getting a penalty or we are turning the ball over. We are our worst enemy when it comes to that side of the field.”
Greene County is led on offense by junior quarterback DJ Smith, who is a transfer for Morgan County. Smith has only completed 37 percent of his passes for 209 yards with one touchdown and one interception, respectively. The Tigers have had trouble moving the ball through the air, but the ground game has been somewhat dependable.
Greene County has four offensive weapons that have at least 130 rushing yards so far this season. Freshman tailback Doremus Alexander has 183 yards on 29 carries with no touchdowns. Next, junior running back Malik West has 27 attempts for 140 yards and five scores. Kalik Brown has also been consistent, rushing for 131 yards on 33 carries so far this season.
“It all starts upfront with the offensive line,” Milligan said. “We have been able to run the ball pretty well, which starts with those five upfronts. They have provided us with some running room. Now, it’s just all about getting in the endzone.”
‘Commerce is Commerce’
Even though Commerce is experimenting and may be struggling, Milligan knows that the visiting Tigers still have a respectable reputation.
“Commerce is Commerce,” he said. “They are always hard-nosed and always aggressive. Our defense has to be top-notch against a pretty good offense if we are going to beat them.”
Milligan pointed out that he is expecting Commerce to come out and run the ball.
“The problem is, they do is pretty effectively, so we have to stop that,” Milligan said. “We’ve seen them run four different types of offensive schemes throughout the first four games. I’m not sure what we’re going to get.”
Milligan acknowledged that the recipe for success, especially against Commerce, is that he needs 110 from his players and they need to “remain injury-free” through four quarters.
“In Class A football, you have to have guys go both ways,” he said. “My guys are going to have to show up on both sides of the football. I’m hoping that our guys can contribute more on the offensive side of the ball. It’s going to be a battle, but I believe in our guys in that they can get it done.”