Eighth-ranked Trinity Valley presents a challenge the No. 12 Garden City Community College Broncbusters have not seen this season.
The Cardinals’ spread, up-tempo offense reminds GCCC head coach Jeff Sims of Coffeyville’s offense from 2015, when the Red Ravens averaged 486.1 yards per game, helmed by now Memphis starting quarterback Riley Ferguson.
That’s high praise for the Busters’ opponent ahead of Saturday’s 11 a.m. Champs Heart of Texas Bowl in Copperas Cove, Texas.
Statistically, though, it’s apt, as the Cardinals — 8-3 and runners-up in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference — are averaging 466.4 yards per game.
“It presents a great challenge,” Sims said on Thursday, as his 8-3 Busters and runners-up in the Jayhawk Conference stopped to practice en route to the bowl game. “That’s what the Texas league is known for — the speed and athleticism they have on their offense.”
These Cardinals aren’t reliant just on a high-flying passing attack — though, that does average nearly 300 yards per game. Their rushing attack is churning out 183.81 yards per game at 4.81 yards per attempt.
And it’s not just their faster pace of play that accounts for the Cardinals’ offensive numbers. They are averaging a stellar 5.9 yards per play — though, that is short of Coffeyville’s 6.7 yards per play gained in 2015.
Still, Sims called the Cardinals the best offense the Busters will face all year. The Buster defense is allowing 20.5 points per game, 295.6 yards per game and just 4.6 yards per play, which is a better-than-solid number. And those numbers are skewed by a couple of poor performances earlier in the season.
The defense recorded two-consecutive shutouts to end the season, and only allowed one 20-point outing in their final four games, when they allowed six 23-plus points games in their first seven.
They are led by linebacker Matt Terrell, who had 83 tackles, three sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble during the regular season, and defensive end Auston Robertson, who had 71 tackles, seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, an interception and batted down four passes.
The Buster secondary, which may perhaps be the most tested on Saturday, is led by Warren Saba, who had five interceptions and 64 tackles. He also had 16 pass breakups — one of the top marks in the NJCAA.
That secondary is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44.6 percent of their passes, but is susceptible to getting beat deep. Though they allowed a measly 4.67 yards per attempt, they allowed 10.47 yards per completion.
The Cardinals’ offense has rarely been slowed this season, however. They didn’t score fewer than 25 points in any of their regular season games, before being held to 10 by Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the region title game.
The Cardinals’ passing game is averaging more than 12 yards per completion, with quarterback Shelton Eppler completing 57.9 of his passes (132 for 228) for 1,714 yards, 16 touchdowns and five picks. He played in just six games, while Jaylon Henderson played in 10 games, but sparingly in the last five.
He completed 53.5 percent of his passes for 1,081 yards, nine touchdowns and one pick, but also rushed 85 times for 382 yards and three scores.
Trinity Valley head coach Brad Smiley — the architect of the offense — did not return several messages for comment over the course of the week. Smiley also recently announced his resignation at Trinity Valley, where he has served as both head coach and athletic director. He will coach the Cardinals on Saturday, however.
The Buster offense is no slouch, either. Led by quarterback Terry Wilson, the Busters are averaging 34.2 points per game, even if it comes at a slower pace than Trinity Valley’s.
The Busters rely on the running game first, averaging 4.91 yards per attempt to Trinity Valley’s 4.81. Charles West has 946 yards and eight touchdowns on 164 carries, a 5.8 yards per attempt. Wilson has chipped in 454 yards of his own and five scores, while the KJCCC Offensive Player of the Year has passed for 1,776 yards and 22 touchdowns on 164-of-280 passes (58.6 percent).
“We definitely have the weapons to keep up with Trinity Valley,” Sims said. “The interesting thing will be to see our offensive line and how they play, and protect and block, to see how well we can do that.”
Trinity Valley’s defense is allowing just 22 points per game, but 359.3 yards per game and 5.1 yards per play. (Those numbers are based off games against the 10 NJCAA opponents on Trinity’s schedule, eliminating an 82-6 blowout of Arkansas Baptist.)
“They have a lot of speed (on defense),” Sims said. “They’re not the biggest defense we’ve faced, but they can run around and make plays.”
A trio of sophomore linebackers — Trey Baldwin, Blake Stephenson and Jack Lechman — lead the Cardinals in tackles, combining for 181. Baldwin also has two picks, while sophomore Prince Robinson has three to lead the secondary, alongside Cassius Grady, who also has three.
Note: Former GCCC assistant Nate Haremza serves as Trinity Valley’s offensive line coach. He was on Sims’ staff in the same capacity during the spring.
Contact J. Levi Burnfin at email@example.com