25 Days of Champions -- 2009 Garden City



Garden City was one of the first teams to take up six-man football back in Texas during the spring of 1938 as part of the Pioneer School Athletic Association, which was a rival to the UIL. The Bearkats moved away from 6-man in 1957, playing some 8-man, before moving to 11-man. Then, in 2004, Garden City made the move back to six-man. Former Whitharral head coach, Ken Hoskins, who won a state title in 2001, took over the program that season and set Garden City on the path for six-man success, going 18-5 with back-to-back district titles and winning Bi-district in 2005.

Vance Jones took over as the Bearkats head coach in 2006 and began building on the base of success set up by Hoskins. Garden City won 11-straight games that season before losing to Meadow in the quarterfinals. They went 8-2 in 2007 and missed the playoffs because they finished in a three-way tie with Rankin and Grady, losing out due to point differentials. They then put together a 10-3 season in 2008, bowing out in the quarterfinals. Expectations were high going into the 2009 season, as they would return all but two starters. However, the peerless magazine devoted to football in the state of Texas, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine had the Bearkats picked to finish second in their district and weren’t ranked in the magazine’s preseason top-10 poll. (Editor’s note: as the person who created those rankings, I will add they were ranked 11th)

Garden City opened their season in the annual Hico Six-Man Super Saturday, facing off with the preseason #7 Throckmorton Greyhounds. Throckmorton won handily, 74-46. That would be the only loss Garden City would suffer on the season. Garden City went on a tear, winning their next six games and beating their opponents by a combined score of 392-54! Their eighth game was a big district showdown with Fort Davis, the preseason favorite to win district 8. It was a tighter game, but Garden City walked away a 72-50 victor. They then beat district foes Water Valley and Rankin via the 45-point mercy rule, to win the district championship and finish the regular season 9-1.

The Bearkats offense was their main weapon, as Vance Jones’ main formation was a tight version of a veer. His players, now in their third season running the formation, were becoming masters at the option-based offense. While they scored a lot of points in the regular season, they were able to score even more in the playoffs! Running back Josh Colunga was a threat out of the backfield and on special teams with his kick returning ability; quarterback Blayne Batla commanded the offense. His main targets in the passing game were linemen Brett Chudej, Reggie Halfmann and Aaron Long.

For Bi-District the Bearkats drew Spur and beat them by 50 points, 76-26. In the second round of the playoffs, they defeated Crowell by 50 points as well, 86-36.

The quarterfinal game would be a rematch with Throckmorton, who handed Garden City their only loss way back in week zero at Hico. Throckmorton was the number one-ranked team in Division 1 and by this time Garden City had clawed their way to the number three spot. The game was a constant back-and-forth battle. Throckmorton led 38-32 after the first quarter, Garden City led 62-60 at halftime, and Throckmorton led 80-74 after three quarters of play. In the fourth quarter, both defenses final showed up. The Bearkats forced three turnovers on downs and a fumble, including holding the Greyhounds on fourth-and-nine at the Bearkats 23-yard line, with 42 seconds left to play. Garden City scored the only touchdown of the fourth quarter, with less than two minutes remaining, to take the lead for good, holding on for the 84-80 win.

The semifinal matchup was with Follett, who were Division 1 state runners-up in 2008. The game was pretty competitive. Josh Colunga returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in this game, all in the first half and scored three more touchdowns on the ground for the Bearkats in the 76-55 victory. Garden City would now advance to the state championship game against the defending DI state champion Strawn Greyhounds. This would be the first title game appearance in football for Garden City.

Interestingly Strawn, 13-1, boasted the same record as Garden City, with their only loss also coming in week 0 at Hico at the hands of Valley 50-40; and interestingly enough just like the Bearkats, the Greyhounds signature win came in the quarterfinals, as they crushed Richland Springs 70-22.

State Championship Game – Saturday Dec. 12th 7:00pm in Shotwell Stadium, Abilene
Garden City faced off with Strawn in the second game of the state championship double header in Abilene, following Borden County’s defeat of Highland, 28-14, in the Division 2 game earlier that day. That afternoon game was the lowest scoring state championship in history. In a strange twist of fate, the Division 1 game would go down in history as the highest combined score in state title game history.

Strawn struck first, running a balanced line Tight-T formation offense, they moved the ball down the field running the ball and scored just 53 seconds into the game, taking an 8-0 lead. On the Bearkats first possession, Strawn forced a fourth down and four when Josh Colunga broke loose from a tackle and scored on a 31-yard run. The PAT was good and the game was tied at 8-8.

Strawn’s next possession, while just the third possession of the game and with only about two minutes into the action, proved to be a crucial point in the game.

Starting on their own 20-yard line, the Greyhounds ran three straight times, netting only five yards and facing a fourth-and-10 on their own 25. On fourth down, they ran a screen pass to their big, strong running back Trey Doyle, who was hit instantly and dropped for two-yard loss, turning the ball over on downs. Two plays later, Garden City scored on a four-yard, play action pass from Batla to Chudej.

On their next possession, Strawn’s Doyle suffered a leg injury that hampered him the rest of the game. A big sack and open field tackle forced another fourth-and-long for the Greyhounds at midfield. Again, they elected to go for it, and a slowed-Doyle was tackled for a two-yard loss.

Garden City was held to a fourth down and six by the Strawn defense, but as on their first possession, the Bearkats, not only converted, but scored on 29-yard pass from Batla to Chudej. The PAT extended their lead to 24-8, with 2:08 left in the first.

The Bearkats defense again forced Strawn to a big fourth down play, a fourth-and-four at the Greyhounds own 31, and again they forced a turnover on downs. The first quarter ended with Garden City leading 24-8 and having stopped the Greyhounds three-straight times on fourth down.

The Bearkats scores again just 49 seconds into the second quarter when Batla hit Halfmann on a 20-yard pass and catch, extending the lead to 32-8.

Strawn then came fighting back. Trey Doyle scored on their first play of the next possession, a 48-yard run, and after finally forcing GC to punt, the Greyhounds scored on a 68-yard run by Joseph Sharp and now only trailed 32-24.

From this point on, a game which had featured some big defensive stands early, became an outright scoring fest. Garden City scored the next two touchdowns before the two teams traded blows for six more touchdowns up to halftime, when Garden City held a 68-48 lead. When the dust had settled, the two teams combined for 88 points in the second quarter, with the highlight of the first half being a Josh Colunga’s 79-yard touchdown run with 2:52 left in the second.

The second half was more of the same: score after score, long play after long play, and excellent PAT kicking by both teams help run the score ever upwards. The third quarter featured another eight touchdowns and perfect 8/8 kicking PATs, making for 64 total points in the quarter. Garden City extended their lead to 36 points, as the score was now 108-72. One of the highlights of the third quarter was the longest pass in a six-man state title game, when with 6:15 on the clock Batla connected with Aaron Long for a 78-yard touchdown strike.

Compared to the three previous quarters, the final stanza was slow paced, as the two teams again traded touchdowns, with Garden City scoring the final touchdown with 5:03 left in the game to take a 122-88 lead that would be the final. It is somewhat amazing that this game ended with the final 4:57 not having a touchdown.

The game was crazy. There was over 1,600 yards of total offense, and a new record of 210 combined points scored in a state championship game, as 27 touchdowns were scored. Both kickers, Brett Chudej for Garden City (13/16) and Luis Elizondo for Strawn (11/11), combined to go 24/27. Individual statistics were also outlandish. Josh Colunga rushed for over 400 yards and seven touchdowns; Blayne Batla passed for over 300 yards and seven touchdowns; Joseph Sharp of Strawn had over 200 yards receiving on just six catches and Brett Chudej caught five touchdown passes with over 150 yards receiving. The 79-yard run by Colunga tied a state game record and the 78-yard pass from Batla-to-Long also set a new record for a state game.

This game was in sharp contrast to the Division 2 game played earlier that day. For most of this scoreboard exploding nightcap, I was sitting in the stands with Borden County’s head coach Trey Richey, watching in shock at the lack of defense after the first quarter. I was also tracking Josh Colonga’s rushing totals throughout the night and keeping Coach Richey informed after every carry where he was thanks to texts from Granger up in the press box. I was eager to see if he would break the state record for most rushing yards in a game. He came close, but fell short of Trey Richey’s 461 yard, eight touchdown performance in the 1985 state game.

-You read that right, the UIL was not the first athletic association to bring six-man football to Texas. The PSAA beat them to the punch, as teams out west, Garden City included, took up the game in the spring of 1938. Of course, some schools were already playing six-man football before 1938, just not members of any association. The first inter-school game was played in Rotan between Sylvester and Dowell in 1936.
-Vance Jones coached at Garden City from 2006-2011 and has been at Balmorhea from 2012 to the present day.
-In the quarterfinal game, Throckmorton spreadback Michael Everett had over 700 yards of total offense.
-I have looked at box scores from the Abilene, San Angelo, and Dave Campbell’s magazine for the state game and all conflict on just about every single yardage total in the individual statistics section…but the most rushing yards credited to Colunga was 441 by DCM (SA 427, ARN 398). This will give you an example of what I’m talking about on how crazy it was trying to track stats that night. (Editor’s note: that was me doing those stats for DCTF)



New member
I’ve enjoyed your looks at these games and here is a little insight that would have totally changed your story. As one of the coaches on that team i know a thing or two about that group.

Marcus Cook was the middle linebacker of that team and one of the best I’ve ever coached. Our entire defense was built on funneling the ball to him in the middle. He played phenomenal all season. But on the first play of the quarterfinal game vs Throckmorton, Marcus tore his ACL. He continued to play, in that game and the rest of the playoffs, in one of the most courageous performances I’ve ever seen by a young athlete. The guy who stuffs the screen pass you mentioned - Marcus Cook. The guy who made the drive stopping tackle on all of the first stops - Marcus Cook. But as the game went on he just got a step slower and the results of the injury started to affect his play. He was a step behind filling the gap that was, as is often the case in SixMan, the difference between a TD and no gain. I have always maintained that if he was healthy the dominance of the first quarters would have continued and we would have ended the game early in the second half. And all of those ridiculous offensive stats would be gone. But it was what it was .....and it was awesome.

That was a special group and a ridiculously talented team. I’ve always said if God was going to give Vance Jones the perfect kids to run his offense, he’d have given him those kids. Could kill you with the run or pass and each fed off the other. And despite the score of the state game, a great defensive group too. Lane Halfmann, Reggie Halfmann, Jesse Montes, Brian Hirt, Brett Chudej (the only 2 way starter) and Marcus Cook (Who spit time with Reggie Halfmann at wingback) were one of the best groups I’ve ever coached.

Leman Saunders

Well-known member
Editor’s note: that was me doing those stats for DCTF)

so we know what set to go with now
Granger's box score can be found in the back of the 6man section in the 2010 issue of Dave Campbell's Magazine