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By: GREG HIGGINS
If you’re a fan of offense, then Friday night’s opener between North Lamar and Commerce was just what you needed. The two offenses combined for over 800 yards and 77 total points.
“We didn’t tackle and we didn’t play special teams,” said North Lamar’s head coach Tommy Felty minutes after his team was on the wrong end of a 42-35 score. “We probably put enough points on the board where we should win most ball games, but we didn’t tackle anybody.”
It started for the Panther’s on the opening kickoff as D’Lance Sharp returned it back for a Commerce touchdown. Luckily the Panthers were aided by a block in the back penalty so the touchdown was called back. However, it only took Commerce four plays to find the end zone and take an early 7-0 lead.
The Panthers offense would respond nicely on their opening drive, as running backs Ian Dukleth and Chance Kelley would carry the Panther 62 yards down the field. Eventually, it would be Kelley taking the ball 11 yards into the end zone for a Panthers’ touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked by the Tigers, leaving the score 7-6 at the midway point of the first quarter.
After the Panthers held Commerce to a short drive, they got the ball back at their own 27 yard line. Quarterback Austin Anthony took North Lamar to midfield before the Panthers were forced to punt. Anthony, also the punter, kicked the ball to the Commerce 4 yard line, where it was fielded by Buck Wilson. Wilson caught the ball, broke some tackles and sprinted 96 yards to the end zone for another Commerce touchdown. The extra point was blocked by North Lamar, but the Tigers now had a 13-6 lead with 1:12 left in the first quarter.
Not to be outdone, though, the Panthers got the ball back and 35 seconds later tied the score up. With the ball on the Panthers own 48 yard line, Dukleth would take the hand off from Anthony and scamper 52 yards for the touchdown. Mario Smith would add the extra point, making it 13-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Commerce would take the next drive and march down the field, highlighted by a 63 yard pass from quarterback Sam Wells to Buck Wilson. Wilson had gotten away from everyone and would have scored on the play but Dukleth chased him down from behind and tackled him at the 5 yard line. Three plays later, Robert Jackson would score for the Tigers. They would convert on a two point attempt, making the score 21-13.
The Panthers couldn’t do anything on their next possession so they punted the ball back to the Tigers. The punt was fielded by Wilson but during the return he fumbled the ball and the Panthers recovered on the 46 yard line of Commerce. Anthony would take advantage of the turnover, and lead his team down the field for a touchdown. This time, though, he kept the ball himself and ran in for a 3 yard score. Dukleth would follow that up with a successful two point conversion run, making the score 21-21.
With less than 3 minutes left in the half, Commerce pushed the ball down the field. However, it was the North Lamar’s Defense that would come up huge on the drive. With the Tigers facing fourth down on the North Lamar 30 yard line, Wells threw to a wide open Buck Wilson down the side line. However, cornerback Dreyton McCarthy stretched himself out and was able to tip the ball away right before Wilson caught it, saving a first down and possibly a touchdown.
The Panthers took a knee and went into the locker room tied at 21. The Panthers would receive the ball to begin the second half. They would start on their own 32, but were forced to punt after the drive stalled near midfield. The snap sailed over Anthony’s head but he was able to retrieve it and punt the ball to the Commerce 28 yard line.
It didn’t take the Tigers long to get on the score board in the second half. On the second play of the drive, Wells connected with Wilson again for a 68 yard touchdown pass. Luis Martinez would miss the extra point attempt, leaving the score 27-21 in favor of the Tigers.
Dukleth took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 52 yard to the Commerce 23 yard line. The Panthers would only be able to move the ball to the 12, though, and would be forced to try a 29 yard field goal. Mario Smith’s kick, however, sailed wide and the Tigers would take over at their own 19 yard line.
Again, Commerce would take very little time to get into the end zone. Running back Robert Jackson had a 28 yard run and a 29 yard catch and run on the drive. Sam Wells would find the end zone after a 21 yard quarter back keeper. Wells would connect with Wilson again on another two point conversion, giving the Tigers a 14 point lead over the Panthers.
As they seemed to do all night, the Panthers would respond to a Tigers touchdown drive with one of their own. The drive would start on their own 43 yard line, and behind the running of Kelley and Anthony the Panthers found themselves on the 3 yard line of Commerce. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Anthony would run in for his second touchdown of the evening. After a successful extra point by Mario Smith, the Panthers trailed 35-28.
Commerce would take over on their own 30 yard line after the kick off went out of bounds. The Tigers would pick up four straight first downs on the drive. With the ball on the 37 of North Lamar, Wells hit Daryian Hubbard for a 17 yard gain. Hubbard, however, fumbled the ball at the 20 yard line and the Panthers would recover.
Down by 7, Anthony led the Panthers down the field. This time it would Dukleth doing much of the running for the Panthers. With the ball on the 35 yard line of Commerce, Anthony dropped back for a pass and started to run. As he was being tackled, the ball came out and the Tigers jumped on it at the 35 yard line.
Commerce would take advantage of the turnover with four plays of 15 yards or more, capped off with a 25 yard touchdown run by Robert Jackson, his second of the night. After another successful extra point, the score was 42-28 in favor of the Tigers.
3:01 was showing on the clock, so Anthony knew he needed to move the Panthers down the field in a hurry. After a good return, the Panthers would start with the ball on their own 42. Three plays later, they were at the 8 yard line of the Tigers. The highlight play of the drive was a spectacular catch made by Samaki Walker, in which he leaped up and took the ball away from the defender. After a couple of penalties, the Panthers found themselves facing second down and goal to go from the 9 yard line. With 38 seconds left in the game, Anthony would find Dukleth in the middle of the end zone for a Panthers touchdown. Smith would connect on another extra point making the score 42-35 and leaving way for an onside kick. The Tigers would recover the onside kick and take a knee to run out the clock.
Chance Kelley finished the game with 154 yards rushing while Ian Dukleth finished with 128. “We had a few kids play their heart out,” said Felty. “They laid it all out there.” Coach Felty knows they have a young team and they need to improve. For now, he and his coaching staff will watch tape and get back to the drawing board. “We’ve got to get ready for next week,” he added right before getting on the buses. Next week, North Lamar will play their home opener against Bonham at 7:30.