During the recent regular season, Garden City Community College added a football game against Air Force Prep just a week prior to playing the game.
Head football coach Jeff Sims said at the time that adding the game could help his Broncbusters get to eight wins by the end of the season, which would be the program’s second-most since 2001. But it would also build a better resumé for bowl game committees.
Now, the 12th-ranked Busters (8-3) are set to play No. 8 Trinity Valley (8-3) in the Champs Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove, Texas, with kick-off set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Bulldawg Stadium, in which the Busters could match the win total of the 2001 Garden City Busters, who finished 9-2 with a win in the Valley of the Sun Bowl.
But the importance of the bowl is more immediate than matching history to these Busters.
“We want to win the game,” Sims said. “This is not a field trip for us. Sometimes, people treat bowl games like it’s a field trip — the banquet, tickets. No, this is a championship. This is a chance for our players to prove how good they are, how good we are and how good our conference is.”
With third-ranked Iowa Western missing out on the chance to play for the NJCAA championship, Sims thought it was a referendum on the relative strength — or perhaps lack thereof — of the Jayhawk Conference. Arizona Western — which the Busters beat in the 2016 NJCAA championship — and East Mississippi will instead play for the NJCAA championship in the Mississippi Bowl.
“We beat Arizona Western last year on their home field, and the Mississippi schools don’t play anybody besides themselves,” Sims said. “If the Mississippi schools want to schedule us, any time, anywhere, we’re ready for them. This is important to us. This is how we pay for our education. This is a (recreation) league to us. This is how we make a living.”
The Mississippi schools will have to wait, because a dangerous Trinity Valley team is up first, and the Cardinals bring with them a potent offense, scoring 40.7 points per game and averaging 466.4 yards per game, both 10th in the NJCAA.
Much of that explosiveness comes from their passing game, which is seventh in the NJCAA with 282.5 yards per game, giving a big challenge to a Buster secondary that was hitting on all cylinders at the end of the season.
“It’s exciting, getting to play in a big game,” redshirt freshman cornerback Warren Saba said.
Saba is a smaller cornerback, listed at 5-foot-10, which Sims said earlier in the season has been an impediment to some schools recruiting Saba.
Sims said at the time that Saba was just a “football player,” and he’d make whatever team he goes to next a better defense. Saturday will be a chance to prove himself further.
“Every week I try to prove myself,” he said. “A lot of guys, you know, ‘He’s 5-9, 5-10,’ or whatever, and they like to pick on me, but I just go out there and do my job and try to help my team win.”
Getting extra practices has helped with that, as well, which was one of the major benefits to playing in a bowl, according to Sims.
“It’s about sophomores getting a few more reps in front of coaches and scouts,” he said. “During bowl practice, you can get scouts to come see your guys in person.”
And there will be more there on Saturday, with both Trinity Valley and Garden City well-stocked with talent that can help four-year programs.
But the focus is still on getting the win.
“We’ve come a long way,” quarterback Terry Wilson said. “That’s a fact. I’m worried about getting this W. We deserve it. We’ve been working really hard.”
After starting the season 4-3, the Busters won four straight to end the regular season, including back-to-back shutouts to end the year — the latter was a 69-0 shellacking of Fort Scott that was the largest margin of victory for the Busters against any school in its 71-year history.
“I don’t know a lot of teams that would want to play us right now,” Sims said.
And perhaps that will translate to a win Saturday.
“It’s going to mean the world (if the Busters win),” Wilson said. “It’s going to feel so good celebrating after that win, that W. Everything’s going to be worth it — all that running to the tower, all those up-downs and getting chewed out and everything. It’s going to make it all worth it.”
Note: In the evening at the same stadium, Division II programs Angelo State and Washburn will play in the NCAA version of the Heart of Texas Bowl. Former Holcomb star Heath Tucker plays in the secondary for the Topeka-based Ichabods.