The fourth quarter was the difference in Salina’s 14-6 loss to Commerce at home Thursday night.
The highly-touted Commerce Tigers, undefeated in district play, had their hands full for the first quarter, thanks to a swarming Wildcat defense.
Both teams forced one-another to punt for better field position in display of defensive confidence.
Neither team scored by the end of the first.
Early in the second, Salina tried to pick up a first down on a fourth and one near midfield, but Commerce held strong at the line of scrimmage, denying the Wildcats on an attempt to seize momentum.
Salina’s aggressive defensive line became the offense when sophomore Tyler Underwood intercepted a pass from Commerce junior Blake Jameson and took it to the house from 46 yards out with 9:11 to play before the break.
A two point conversion attempt was stopped by Commerce, and Salina led 6-0 at the half.
The third quarter appeared much like the first, though both teams had relative success picking up first downs.
Still, neither was able to convert positive yardage into points.
Salina senior running back Ryan Humphrey picked up a head of steam to start the fourth, slashing through a hole created by the offensive line.
With 9:47 to play Wildcats senior Kyle Johnson missed a 28-yard field goal attempt.
Commerce inherited the bad field position but left their power-run game for a play.
The decision to test Salina’s secondary proved beneficial for the Tigers as Jameson found junior wide receiver Diego Ybarra up the left side for an one-play, 80-yard touchdown.
The extra point put Commerce on top with 9:34 to play.
When Salina got the ball back a quick turnover on downs ensued.
Commerce ran the ball, picking up a couple first downs before senior running back Parker Morgan found the end zone from five yards out with 4:58 to play.
Another successful extra point put Commerce ahead 14-6.
Salina drove the ball down to the Commerce 35 yard line, but the Tigers defense held strong enough to force a turnover on downs with less than two minutes to play.
Salina Head Coach Kyle Fowler said the game epitomizes a heartbreaking season.
“Our kids continue to give great effort all season long,” Fowler said. “It was just a matter of them (Commerce) making one more play than us. We are really a break or two away from a 6-2 season. But the resiliency of our players is impressive.”
Salina faces Quapaw on the road Oct. 26.