Highland, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-With his daughter by his side, Broncbuster Coach Jeff Sims allowed himself to take in a very special moment on Saturday afternoon at Kessinger Field.
Eight months of harboring game plans and sleeping in his office would drive any person insane. But not Sims; not the guy who demands perfection; not the guy who makes a living off quoting famous people and living by their standard; not the guy who knows more about football than most at this level.
So following his team’s opening-week victory over Highland, Sims, never at a loss for a good sound bite, put a 60-minute, unconventional victory in perspective:
“We did enough to win a junior college football game,” he said. “Period.”
True freshman quarterback Jayru Campbell threw four touchdown passes, and Brian Michalowski’s defense picked off sophomore Christian Shantz four times as Garden City gutted their way to a 36-28 victory over the Scotties.
“This win was possible because of our players,” Sims said afterwards. “All the work these guys put in. And our staff; it’s their win. I’m just fortunate to be along for the ride.”
As selfless as that statement reads, the reason the Broncbusters were in a position to win was pure gamesmanship on Sims behalf; countless Belichickian decisions that made even his own coaches look at their leader cross eyed.
Leading 33-21 early in the fourth, Garden City (1-0, 1-0) was staring a third-and-20 at their own 10. Instead of risking a turnover or an injury, Sims went deep into Bill Belichick’s playbook and decided to punt on third down. The end result: Highland went three-and-out on their ensuing series.
“Why take a risk in that situation,” Sims said.
Especially when his defense had stymied the Scotties high-octane attack all afternoon.
After Marquis Terry’s one-yard touchdown plunge cut the Broncbuster lead to just five, Garden City drove 68 yards in eight plays to the Highland 3-yard line. But following Campbell’s incomplete pass on second-and-goal, Sims called his field goal unit out to try a chip shot on third down.
“I knew in that situation, all we needed was three points,” he explained. “So I told the guys if it’s a bad snap, fall on it and we’ll try it again on fourth down.”
The snap was perfect, and although Kevin Olney’s 20-yard attempt hit the right upright, it took a fortuitous bounce and made it through, giving the Broncbusters an eight-point lead with 1:30 to play.
“At that point my whole sideline was looking at me and thinking: why did we come to the game with this guy?” Sims said with a huge smile on his face. “But we didn’t need a touchdown in that situation.”
A touchdown would have sealed the game, but the field goal left the door cracked open for the Scotties. Garden City’s defense slammed it shut.
Trailing by eight with less than 30 seconds to go, Highland reached the Broncbuster 26. But on third-and-11, Jeremy Faulk, who was recruited by Sims when he was at Florida Atlantic, sacked Shantz; punched the ball out and recovered it at the 40 yard line.
“I still don’t know how good we are,” Sims said. “These guys have to lean how to ride the wave.”
To his team’s credit, his team endured plenty of big waves in the first half.
Campbell’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Felton Hatcher following a defensive holding call against Highland, gave Garden City an early 7-0 lead.
But the Scotties responded with 21 straight points, thanks to two special teams’ gaffs by Garden City: a bad snap to punter Alex Figueroa that set Highland up at the Broncbuster 25 and a fumble by Darrell Songy that was returned by Sam Adams to the 8-yard line. The former resulted in Shantz’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Bob Pugh; the ladder ended with Tyree Elliott running it in from a yard out.
“Junior College football is not about the mistakes that you make,” Sims said. “It’s how you respond to those mistakes.”
The Broncbusters responded like champions, scoring twice before the half to tie the game. The first coming when Trayvon Blake intercepted a wobbly Shantz pass over the middle and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
When they got the ball back, it took Highland (0-1, 0-1) less than two minutes to march to the Broncbusters’ 5-yard line. But on second-and-goal, Jonathan Cook, who just a few months ago received a phone call from Alabama Coach Nick Saban informing him he was no longer on the team, jumped in front of Troy Grant, intercepted Shantz’s pass and raced 70 yards to the Scotties’ 30-yard line.
Saban’s loss was definitely Sims’ gain.
Five plays later, Campbell connected with Colorado transfer Jeff Thomas on an 18-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone. Olney booted through the extra point to knot the score at 21-21.
In the third quarter, Garden City extended their lead to 33-21. First it was Campbell hitting Thomas for a five-yard score. Then it was the freshman getting the bounce of the century when his pass to the end zone was deflected by two Highland defenders and finally caught by Hatcher for a touchdown.
But the play that saved the game for the Broncbusters was even crazier than that.
With a 12-point cushion early in the final period, Campbell went with what he thought was a safe throw: a screen pass to running back Eddie Morris. But defensive lineman Tyree Graves sniffed it out and picked it off.
As the sophomore from Clearwater, FL rumbled towards the goal line, two white shirts came up from behind and knocked the ball out. The Broncbusters recovered in the end zone, resulting in a touchback.
“Our guys hustled and played hard,” Sims said. “At the end of the day, that will take you places.”
In this case, it pushed the first-year Garden City coach to his first career victory dawning the brown and gold.
“We still have a long way to go,” Sims said. “But wins are always fun.”
Campbell finished the afternoon 27-of-56 for 293 yards. He ran the ball 33 times for 34 yards and was sacked nine times. It was part of a game plan that saw Campbell used as the main ball carrier, with new offensive coordinator Joel Berry drawing up a scheme that used a full spread offense with wide splits.
Thomas caught seven passes for 83 yards and two scores. Hatcher reeled in three balls for 48 and two touchdowns.
On the other side for Highland, Shantz completed 26-of-55 passes for 221 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Terry carried the ball seven times for 16 yards and a score, while Grant had seven catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Extra Points: Highland has now lost eight out of their last nine season openers…Ironically, their last home-opening victory came against Garden City in 2010…The Broncbusters improved to 11-3 all-time at Highland…In their last two games dating back to last season, Garden City has allowed a total of 17 sacks (eight vs. Coffeyville and nine vs. the Scotties)…Campbell became the Broncbusters sixth different quarterback since Nick Marshall graduated in 2012…It’s the third straight year Garden City has had a different starter in week one (Akeem Jones in 2013; Danarious Grahm in 2014)
New Radio Home: Beginning next week against Dodge City, the new radio home for Broncbuster athletics is 99.9 ESPN Radio
Next up: Garden City vs. Dodge City, Saturday, September 5—6:30 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM ESPN Radio; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr; mobile app: KWKR and tuneinradio app: KWKR