By Mike Pilosof
Listen to the complete game in our archives section
Copperas Cove, TX-In a football game, 60 seconds is an eternity.
And oh my how things changed in one minute on Saturday.
Garden City overcame a 17-0 deficit, took the lead twice, and was up three with 1:00 to go. But Angel Sevier's 46-yard field goal coupled with Prince Robinson's dazzling 25-yard interception return, gave No. 8 Trinity Valley a heart stopping 48-41 victory over No. 12 Garden City in the 2017 Heart of Texas Bowl at Bulldawg Stadium.
"We had the game won," Broncbusters Coach Jeff Sims said. "But we just flat ran out of gas."
One thing is for certain: this will go down as one of the best Junior College football games in recent memory.
"We had the lead and the ball and couldn't put the game away," Sims said. "That's what it came down to. Last year, we finished games. This year, we didn't."
Three times in that final period, Garden City (8-4, 5-2) had the ball with a three-point cushion. Each time they failed to pick up a single first down.
With less than three minutes to go, Trinity Valley (9-3, 5-3) got the ball back at their own 39. On first down, Shelton Eppler, who threw for more than 12,000 yards during an illustrious high school career, hit Brayten Kubecka for 28 yards down to the Broncbusters 33. Once the drive stalled at the Garden City 25, Cardinals Coach Brad Smiley sent out Sevier, one of the nation's most accurate kickers, who drilled a 46-yard field goal to tie the game at 41.
"You have to give Trinity Valley a lot of credit," Sims said. "That guy makes a kick, and then they made a play at the end."
Starting at their own 17 with two timeouts and 50 seconds, Garden City had no plans of playing for overtime.
"We had two timeouts, so that's why we went for it," Sims said. "All we needed was a field goal."
On the first play of the drive, Wilson dropped back and fired a pass towards Daniel Davis. But the Jayhawk Conference offensive player of the year never saw Robinson, who undercut the route, snatched the ball out of the sky, and returned it to 25 yards for a touchdown.
"It took so much energy to get back in this game, that our guys just looked spent on that final drive," Sims explained.
The Broncbusters still had two timeouts and the top-ranked quarterback in Junior College football on their side. But back-to-back incompletions, followed by a sack and an illegal forward pass ended one of the most improbable 60-second runs in history.
"You can't make the mistakes that we made today against a good football team like that," Sims said. "Against somebody else, maybe you can get away with it. But not against Trinity Valley."
Oddly enough, the Broncbusters, who came into the game on the heels of back-to-back shutouts, were the ones that struggled early. Meantime, Eppler came out slinging, hitting Tony Mullins for a 16-yard score on the game's opening drive, then went back to Mullins for a 21-yard touchdown following Cassius Grady's 30-yard interception return that set the Cardinals up in the red zone. Sandwich in Sevier's 46-yard field goal, his second longest of the season, and Trinity Valley had a 17-0 advantage with 13:25 remaining in the first half.
"I'm proud of the way our guys responded," Sims said. "They have nothing to be ashamed of."
Garden City finally got going midway through the second period, driving 68 yards in seven plays, spearheaded by two Wilson to Davis connections: one went for 38 yards, the other for 18 on third-and-10 at the Cardinals 30-yard line. After a defensive holding call on Robinson put the Broncbusters at the 6, Wilson went back to the air, this time dropping in a perfect fade in the back-right corner of the end zone to tight end Nigel KIlby on third-and-goal to get Garden City on the board. They trailed 17-7 at the half.
"Because we got down early, we had to change things up and go tempo," Sims said.
And the Cardinals had no answer for it on Garden City's first possession of the third quarter as the Broncbusters marched 75 yards in less than three minutes. Wilson was 4-of-5 on the drive, which included a big third-down conversion and a three-yard scoring toss to Kilby that pulled Garden City to within three, 17-14 with 12:15 remaining in the period.
But the Cardinals answered right back, and Greg Eisworth's 40-yard kickoff return gave Trinity Valley the ball at the 50 yard line. From there, the Cardinals knifed right through the Broncbusters defense, which was without first-team all-conference lineman Auston Robertson, who hurt his left knee in the second quarter. Eppler took full advantage, hitting Torrin Justice for 16 on third-and-7 from the Garden City 29. Five plays later, Eppler called his own number, and slammed across the goal line on fourth down from the 1, extending the Cardinals lead to 24-14 with 7:52 to play in the third.
"Playing without Auston was tough, but our guys held their own," Sims said. "The whole defense held their own."
That defense was sensational in the second half, picking up an offense that sputtered at times in the third quarter. And it all started with a guy that some thought might not even see the field as a true freshman.
With his team down 10, Holcomb-native Dillon Williams made the play of game late in the third period, batting Eppler's pass into the air, intercepting it, and returning it 40 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 24-21.
"That was a just a great play by Dillon," Sims said. "That guy works so hard."
But as they did earlier in the period, Trinity Valley responded right away, going 70 yards in nine plays before Eppler found Tristan Wallace, who was teammates with Wilson at Oregon, for a 21-yard touchdown that put the Cardinals on top 31-21 with less than a minute to play in the third.
"We spotted these guys 17 points, and we never quit," Sims said. "But our mistakes were costly."
Early in the final period, the Broncbuster defense struck again; this time it was cornerback Meiko Dotson.
The Georgia-Tech transfer picked off Eppler and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown, making it a three-point game again, 31-28 with 14:28 to go.
After forcing a three-and-out, Garden City got the ball back at their own 31. With more than two dozen Division-I scouts in the stands watching, Wilson was flawless on the drive, completing all five passes, including the go-ahead touchdown toss to Remi Simmons from 13 yards out that gave the Bronbusters a 35-31 lead four minutes into the final frame.
"It's hard to explain just how much energy we used digging out of that 17-point hole," Sims said. "But our offense made plays when we needed them to in the second half."
While the Broncbuster fans were in frenzy, Robinson silenced them quickly, returning the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, weaving from the left side of the field all the way to the right, and putting Trinity Valley back on top 38-35 with 11:12 left.
"That was disappointing," Sims said. "We could have stopped them and tried to extend the lead. But we didn't."
Garden City was not down for long once Wilson got the ball back in his hands. The redshirt freshman went back to work, hitting Davis, who punctuated his 14-catch, 169-yard performance with a 10-yard touchdown reception that gave the Broncbusters the lead again. But James White missed the extra point, keeping Trinity Valley within a field goal.
Wilson finished the day 30-of-57 for 337 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. It was just the third 300-yard passing game in the last 23 contests for Garden City. Wilson added 64 yards on the ground while Kilby caught five balls for 28 yards and two scores.
Eppler was 21-of-49 for 252 yds, three touchdowns and two interceptions for Trinity Valley, who beat Garden City for the first time since 1997. Aphonso Thomas ran it 16 times for 103 yards, and Wallace had four receptions for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Notes: Brad Smiley coached his final game for Trinity Valley-he's leaving to take the offensive coordinator position at Northwestern State. Davis finished with the sixth most receiving yards in a single game in program history…Garden City dropped to 10-12-1 all-time in bowl games; Jeff Sims is 2-4 lifetime…The Broncbusters are 5-3 vs. ranked opponents under Sims