Commander helps Burns win coaching debut with New London

New London — The sideline, upbeat all night, went volcanic on this one play, when Jacob Commander's last name provided the one-word game story for the season opener.

Commander, built low to the ground, took a handoff late in the second quarter Friday night at Cannamela Field and saw an alarming number of Capital Prep/Achievement jerseys surrounding him. And so Commander, without much time to make a decision, decided that if you can't run past them, you run them over.

His legs churned, while tacklers pinballed off him. He drove and spun all 16 yards, taking what felt like the entire Capital traveling party, including the statistician and bus driver, with him. His touchdown helped the Whalers kick off the Johnny Burns era with an exclamation point, a 20-7 win.

"It was all my line," Commander said. "Good blocking, good blocking and then great blocking. Period. I was really glad for that. I told my teammates I'll rip every muscle in my legs to get the touchdown."

Commander staggered off the field, ready to celebrate with his teammates, when Burns alerted him that he had to kick the extra point, too.

"I was like (Commander grabbed his chest as if he couldn't breathe) ... OK, I have to go back out there," he said, laughing.

He finished with 176 yards and even threw in a quarterback sack on defense.

"We didn't have to pass hardly at all," quarterback Owen George, who completed four passes for 42 yards, said. "Jake's unbelievable back there."

All of which made Burns' debut a success.

"Jake would be just as outstanding as a linebacker as he is a runner," Burns said. "We'd like not to rep him so much on defense. He's a major part of the offensive game plan. A very special running back."

George followed center Monty Hastings to the end zone to give New London a 7-0 lead early. Frankie Pratts' block on the outside keyed Commander's 34-yard run that set up the aforementioned score to make it 13-0. George's 26-yard completion to Zehki Burgess set up Commander's 34-yard touchdown run in the third period to make it 20-0.

Capital nearly answered quickly, using Cardeem McKnight's 78-yard kickoff return. McKnight would have scored had New London's Cam Sousa not ran him down from behind to tackle him at the 1. The result: goal-line stand.

Capital would score later, but the Whalers possessed the ball most of the fourth period.

"There's always some relief with winning," Burns, a member of New London's Class of 1995. "But I would say more than anything else, I'm happy that we accomplished what we thought we could. I have the utmost confidence in our coaching staff. We really couldn't wait to play. Just bring the game."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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