Published 12/8/2012 in Sports
By ADAM HOLT
What a trip.
Not just the Garden City Community College football team's 31-29 Mississippi Bowl win over then-No. 7 Copiah-Lincoln on Sunday, in Biloxi, Miss., but the journey that started two years ago when Jeff Tatum took over the Broncbuster program.
In mid-November, Garden City had posted a 6-4 record, its first winning campaign since 2008. The Busters had the KJCCC coach of the year in Tatum, and offensive player in the year in quarterback Nick Marshall. After a 2-7 season in 2011, this seemed like plenty of improvement in Year 2 of the Tatum era.
Then, Garden City not only got a bowl bid, but it got a win in that bowl over a top-10 team. As a result, the Busters finished No. 20 in the final NJCAA poll, the first time they finished the season ranked since 2007. Co-Lin was No. 14.
"I'm proud of these kids," Tatum said after the game. "This is something they're always going to live for. That's why they came to Garden City Community College, is to win a bowl game, to win a championship. And they've accomplished it. I'm proud that they were on my football team, I really am."
Plenty of freshmen and transfers had big impacts — Marshall, running backs Jamal Tyler and Tyreek Hill, cornerbacks Riyahd Jones and Quintavious Harrow, to name a few. But a lot of holdovers from the 2011 team got rewarded for sticking with it, too.
Sophomore wide receiver Raul Silva said he thought about quitting football after last season. A veteran defense that retained a lot of players from last year may have had its doubts as well.
Instead, they stuck with it, and finished their junior college careers as bowl champions.
"I'm more proud for those guys," Tatum said. "When we got the bowl bid, I was proud for those guys, because I thought that was a way to reward them for two years of working really, really hard, and getting the program back to where it was. I wasn't even really excited about winning the bowl game itself, but I wanted to reward them, and the win would be the icing on the cake."
"It just feels so good," Silva said. "My dad won two bowls when he played here, and just to at least have one, it's awesome to know the feeling. We kind of share that. So that's a good thing."
The bid itself might have been enough — Tatum himself said so. But to win an instant classic of a game over a highly ranked team in its own backyard seemed almost excessive.
"We deserved it," receiver Rod Coleman said. "We went through our ups and downs all throughout the season. We had four losses, but they were close games. Coach Tatum told us to come down here and give our all, and that's what we did."
It was Coleman's miraculous catch of a tipped ball that landed in his stomach while he was on the ground with under a minute to play that moved the Busters up 59 yards, and set up Tyler Peterson's game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired.
Not only did the Busters get to finish their season as bowl champions, they got to do it in an unforgettable game that helped announce Garden City football had returned.
"It feels good," Tyler said. "It feels like a dream come true, man. You work hard all year, and you're rewarded with a ring. Ain't no better feeling than the feeling we've got."
"It's wonderful, man," sophomore defensive end Kitray Solomon said. "The only thing is, I'm going to miss my teammates, man. I've been here two years, when you get that type of bond with people, it's hard to leave them."
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