Offensive line sets tone as Taconic rushes way past Commerce
PITTSFIELD — Play after play, after play, after play, the Taconic football team lined up across from Commerce and ran the ball right at the defense.
On an unseasonably warm afternoon at Wahconah Park, Taconic coach Jim Ziter challenged his offensive linemen to open holes in the running game. The front five responded, as Braves ball carriers rushed for 357 total yards in a 44-22 win over the Red Raiders on Saturday.
After the game, Ziter had his offensive linemen — left tackle Drew Armstrong, left guard Luke Whitehouse, center Billy Ellis, right guard Luke Maynard and right tackle Teyler Hiestand — rise and receive a standing ovation. The unit has struggled at times this season, but against the Red Raiders, Ziter wanted his linemen to know they rose to the challenge and excelled.
"We challenged them all week," Ziter said. "Our offensive line is getting better. ... I'm proud of my offensive line. I've been on them all year and they're responding and doing a great job for us."
Taconic (2-4, 1-2 Suburban North) only needed to throw the ball one time against Commerce (0-5, 0-3). That play came on fourth down from the Commerce seven-yard line with 4.2 seconds left in the second quarter. Quarterback Sal Amaral rolled right and connected with Javier Osorio for the score, putting the Braves up 22-14. The remainder of the game was spent on the ground. Seven different rushers received carries for Taconic.
Cedric Rose's second carry from scrimmage went 28 yards to the end zone. Nikos Gian and Rose rumbled away on Taconic's second possession, running for seven, six and five, respectively. Jaydan Cross (five carries for 50 yards) gained one yard on third and inches, setting up a Hunter Johnston two-yard touchdown run.
The Braves held the Red Raiders to negative 11 yards from scrimmage on their first two drives. Jalen Hill's interception ended the first drive. A Nick Sayers and Luke Maynard combo sack ended the second.
Finding no success on the ground, the visitors went to the air to move the ball. After a Braves turnover on a muffed punt, quarterback Semaj Hunter connected with Nate Mendez as he sprinted down the right sideline for a 63-yard score.
Taconic fumbled away the ball again on its next possession. A false start and a run for a four-yard loss moved Commerce back to its own seven. On second-and-long, Hunter faked a handoff and unleashed another long ball, this time connecting with Samuel Anderson. Anderson reeled in the ball with his finger tips and sprinted into the end zone for the 93-yard score.
Amaral's lone completion answered the score as time expired in the first half and the Braves pulled away in the second half.
Rose led all rushers with 135 yards and a score on 18 carries. Johnston had 42 yards and two scores on seven carries. Nikos Gian had 87 yards and a score on 14 carries. Marquiese Sanders had 30 yards and a score on eight carries.
"Our coach always emphasizes [that] the line wins the game," Maynard said. "We always try going out strong. He really pushes us because he knows that we have the full potential to keep going throughout the game and to keep pushing them back.
"I have all the trust in my boys and they trust me. We just go out there and go head-to-head."
The win keeps Taconic's slim playoff hopes alive. Ziter said he's approaching every game as a one-game playoff. The Braves second must-win game will be at South Hadley on Friday.
Commerce 0 14 0 8 — 22
Taconic 16 6 14 8 — 42
T — Cedric Rose 28 run (Nikos Gian run), 11:17.
T — Hunter Johnston 2 run (Rose run), 6:01.
C — Nate Mendez 63 pass from Semaj Hunter (run failed), 8:10.
C — Samuel Anderson 93 pass from Hunter (Kwamie Lowe run), 3:12.
T — Marquiese Sanders 5 run (pass failed), 7:41.
T — Johnston 7 run (Jaydan Cross run), 3:28.
C — Lowe 62 run (Hunter run), 5:27.
T — Gian 4 run (Sanders run), :26.9
Rushes-yards 20-43 55-357
Att-comp-int 4-6-1 1-1-0
Passing yards 177 7
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 7-50 5-40
RUSHING — Commerce: Kwamie Lowe 12-61, Semaj Hunter 6-(minus 10), Trayvon Patterson 1-(minus 4), Davin Durant 1-(minus 4). TACONIC: Cedric Rose 18-135, Nikos Gian 14-87, Jaydan Cross 5-50, Hunter Johnston 7-42, Marquiese Sanders 8-30, Lucien Almeida 2-7, Dylan Burke 1-6.
PASSING — Commerce: Hunter 4-6-1 177. Taconic: Sal Amaral 1-1-0 7.
RECEIVING — Commerce: Mitchell Parkes 1-5, Nate Mendez 1-63, Samuel Anderson 1-93, Lowe 1-16. Taconic: Javier Osorio 1-7.
Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.
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