A 28-20 victory over Navarro Community College in the TIPS-CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl capped an historic season for the Co-Lin football Wolves.
Navarro, ranked number 10 in National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) play with a 6-4 overall record, won the game statistically, but Co-Lin prevailed with two passing touchdowns by Devon Tott -- 66 yards to Richard May in the second quarter and 36 yards to Jaylan Smith in the third quarter -- and running touchdowns of 12 yards in the third quarter and 4 yards in the fourth quarter by Tray Miner and Johnnie Daniels. The Bulldogs racked up 240 passing and 175 rushing yards against Co-Lin’s 175 passing and 115 rushing yards, but penalties were the equalizer, with Navarro assessed 125 yards on 12 against only 20 yards on four for Co-Lin. At halftime, Navarro took a 13-7 lead into the locker room after Co-Lin turned over the ball on an interception, followed by a 36 yard touchdown pass from Dana Jentsch to Jaxxon Warren. The Bulldogs also scored on 33-yard and 42-yard field goals in the first half and a fourth quarter 24-yard passing touchdown from Jentsch to Braylan Fenney before Co-Lin ran out the clock to end the game.
Both Navarro and Co-Lin missed opportunities to play for the NJCAA crown, losing their conference championship games before receiving invitations to play in the postseason game at Commerce, Texas. Going into the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) championship game against East Mississippi in their second matchup with them, the Wolves were ranked fourth in NJCAA competition, but fell to sixth after their disappointing 27-20 loss in the final minutes of the fourth quarter at Scooba, Mississippi.
Before the matchup with Navarro, Co-Lin had a 9-2 record -- their fourth under Head Coach Glenn Davis, and the bowl game victory gave the Wolves only the second 10-win season in their history.
The Wolves finished the 2023 season averaging 350 yards per game (166.5 rushing and 183.5 passing) while scoring 29.1 points per game. The Wolves allowed 295.8 yards per game to their opponents (126.7 rushing and 169.1 passing) and opponents scored 18.5 points per game. The Wolves posted a shutout in their regular season finale against Hinds in a game that also saw the defense allow the Eagles just 125 yards of offense. The Wolves offense had over 400 yards four times this season in wins over #8 East Mississippi, Mississippi Delta, East Central, and #10 Northwest, with the highest total against Mississippi Delta at 473 yards. Leading the Wolves into the bowl were:
Sophomore quarterback: DeVon Tott, with 158-272 for 1768 yards, including 10 touchdowns and 190 rushing yards on 67 carries with 4 touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Johnnie Daniels, with 1,491 all-purpose yards -- 1196 yards on 168 carries and 205 receiving yards on 22 receptions. Daniels led the nation in touchdowns, was second in the nation in rushing yards and yards per game and fourth in yards per carry.
Sophomore wide receivers Carlos Martin and Jaylen Smith both had 37 receptions.
Freshman back Jahron Manning led the defense with 68 tackles (6.2 per game).
Sophomore back Kaden Dukes and freshman linebacker Malachi Williams led the defense with three interceptions.
Sophomore defensive lineman Billy Pullen leads the team in sacks with 12.5 and tackles for loss with 17. Pullen led the nation in forced fumbles, was second in sacks, and fifth in tackles for loss.
Sophomore kicker/punter Brandon Gilliam scored 82 points, kicking 16 field goals on 23 attempts, with 44 yards his longest; and 34 extra points on 35 tries. He also averaged 33 yards on 42 punts, with his longest 60 yards. Gilliam led the nation in points and field goal attempts.
Before the bowl game, the Bulldogs averaged 381.6 yards per game (161.5 rushing and 220.1 passing), while scoring 30.8 points per game. They allowed 361.3 yards per game (142.2 rushing and 219.1 passing) and 27.4 points per game.
Quarterback Dane Jentsch led the Bulldogs with 2.082 yards on 164 completions with 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Jentsch was also the leading rusher for the Bulldogs with 620 yards on 128 carries with ten touchdowns. Wide receiver D'Tyrain McCoy had the second most rushing yards on the team with 455 yards on 74 carries with five touchdowns. Bryan Spotwood led the Bulldogs receiving corps with 44 receptions for 635 yards with three touchdowns while Braylon Finney had 467 yards on 36 receptions with five touchdowns.
The Bulldogs defense had 68 tackles for loss with 28 sacks, while averaging 67.7 tackles per game. They forced eight fumbles this season and had seven fumble recoveries along with seven interceptions and five blocks. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Smith led the defense in tackles per game and total tackles, while sophomore linebacker Eddy Toussom led the team in sacks and tackles for loss. Sophomore defensive back Jakelyn Morgan led the team in interceptions.
The TIPS-CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl (known as the HOT Bowl for short), founded by Copperas Cove (Texas) High School football coach Jack Welch, has been played since 2001, at Copperas Cove (until 2017), Waco, Texas, ISD Stadium (2018) and now at Memorial Stadium at Commerce, Texas (beginning 2021 following a two-year hiatus during the COVID 19 pandemic.
CHAMPS is the acronym for bowl sponsor Communities Helping Americans Mature, Progress and Succeed, which is a nonprofit group focusing on improving drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, mental health, and preventing teen suicide. TIPS (The Interlocal Purchasing System) started sponsoring the bowl game with CHAMPS in 2018.
The bowl game matches Texas teams from Southwest Junior College Football Conference with community and junior colleges form other states. Opponents have come from Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, and New Mexico, with the Texas teams winning most of the contests. Trinity Valley Community College and Kilgore College have had the most appearances among the Texas teams, with five apiece. Trinity Valley has been the most successful participant by far, going 5-0 in its games. Among the non-Texas teams, Coffeyville Community College of Kansas has the most appearances, with three. No non-Texas team has won the bowl more than once.