All season, the defense played in the shadows.

The shadow of Garden City Community College’s record-breaking offense. The shadow of another recent defense that led the Broncbusters to another NJCAA title game in 2016 — a defense that by the end of the season opposing coaches were calling the best junior college defense they had ever seen.

There was no duplicating that 2016 group, which featured two now-NFL players and perhaps a couple of more by this time next year.

But when it mattered, this year’s D did 2016 one better — putting together a nearly perfect performance in the NJCAA Championship vs. No. 1 defending champion East Mississippi on Thursday at Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg.

Yes, of course this year’s defense was on the losing end of a 10-9 game, and the 2016 defense were title-winners. But this year’s group, led by Holcomb graduate Dillon Williams, shut down an East Mississippi team’s offense that was superior to Arizona Western’s in 2016.

“They average some 400 yards per game and 50 points, or something like that,” Williams said, overestimating a bit on the points per game number of 42 points per game coming into the game for the Lions. “And realistically, they only scored three on the defense. We had a good game plan going in, and (defensive coordinator Josh Hager) was all over us.”

The Busters allowed a first-quarter field goal, and the Lions scored their touchdown on a fumble return — otherwise, the Lions went nowhere on offense. East Mississippi was held to its fewest yards (211), rushing yards (115), passing yards (96) and points (10) this season.

“The defense and Josh Hager deserve incredible credit,” GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said afterwards. “We’ve been an offensive team all year, our defense played well enough to win the game, but that’s why this is a national championship game. Everybody said this was the two best teams.”

And the two teams proved that on Thursday — but Garden City’s anonymous defense stepped out of the dark, and into the bright lights of national television, and made its case to be considered perhaps the best unit on the field.