Co-Lin Wolves wrap up unforgettable 2023 football season with bowl game victory
Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Bad teams want the season to be over with as quickly as possible so that they can turn the page and move on to something else.
Great teams love to be around one another inside and outside the lines of competition. They forge near unbreakable friendships as they win and lose together, and those bonds transcend through the years.
The 2023 Copiah-Lincoln football team is the latter of those two.
On Saturday in Commerce, Texas, coach Glenn Davis and his Wolf Pack put a bow on one of the best seasons in program history with a 28-20 victory over Navarro College (6-5) in the 2023 Champs Heart of Texas Bowl.
The 10-2 record for Co-Lin is only the second time in school history for the Wolves to get double digit wins in a season. The 1985 team won the state title and a bowl game under former coach Ray Ishee and finished 10-3.
The win over Navarro on a blustery day wasn’t flashy, but it was a perfect example of how Co-Lin has won all year, by getting key contributions across the board and closing out tight games.
CLCC started the season off with a three-point win over East Mississippi and a few weeks later beat Southwest Mississippi by eight points. The most important win of the year was on the road, 28-23 at Mississippi Gulf Coast in the middle of the season.
Co-Lin needed overtime to beat East Central 40-34 in the last home game of the year. A loss there would have killed any chance of postseason play. They then finished the regular season out with a workman like 13-0 win at Hinds to win the MACCC South Division.
They had a close loss too, losing 27-20 at East Mississippi in the MACCC Championship Game, as the Lions scored the go-ahead touchdown with just over 90 seconds remaining. East Mississippi (10-2) gained an NJCAA semifinal spot with that win and defeated top ranked and previously unbeaten Hutchinson (Kansas) on Saturday 27-23. The Lions will play for the national championship on Dec. 13 against Iowa Western CC (11-1) in Little Rock.
The bowl game on Saturday lacked had much rhythm for either side in the early going. What Navarro did well was keep possession as they controlled the ball for 37 minutes, compared to just 23 minutes of possession Co-Lin.
“They just battled through a bad first half for us and some injuries we had with guys out and came together in the second half,” said Davis. “The character of this team, how hard they played for each other and how they didn’t have any egos and how we had leaders that would call out their teammates when needed, it just made for a really fun group of guys to be around and coach.”
Navarro also outgained the Wolves through the air, 240-yards to 196-yards. And the Bulldogs from Corsicana, Texas outrushed Co-Lin too, 175-yards to 115-yards.
Both teams turned the ball over twice, but penalties were the difference in the game.
It was nice to see the teams huddle together at midfield for the post-game trophy presentation, as they had jawed at one another after nearly every snap in the second half.
Many of those post-play dustups ended up costing Navarro, which was penalized in the game 12 times for 125 yards. Co-Lin drew just four penalties that cost them 20 yards.
When Co-Lin did have the ball, they looked like the better team.
Trailing 3-0 after the first quarter, the Wolves finally got their offense cranked up with a 66-yard touchdown pass from quarterback DeVon Tott to wide receiver Richard Mays. Mays is committed to next play at Jackson State and transferred to CLCC this season from Southern Miss.
Navarro trimmed that lead to 7-6 with 31 seconds left until halftime via a 49-yard field goal that capped a 16 play, 50-yard drive that took eight minutes and 30 seconds off the clock.
CLCC then took over on its own 16-yard line and looking back, probably should have kneeled out the first half.
The Wolves wanted to take a shot down field though and it was intercepted and returned to the Co-Lin 41-yard line.
On the final play of the first half, Navarro quarterback Dane Jentsch found an open receiver for a 36-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick gave the Bulldogs a 13-7 lead at the half.
The 5-foot-11 Jentsch was a tough guy to bring down all day. He went 16-of-25 passing for 193 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 77 yards on 20 carries. His bio will tell you that Jentsch guided the Grandview High Zebras, located south of Fort Worth, to back-to-back Texas 3A championships as a sophomore and junior.
He’s the only player in Texas high school football history to be named the offensive and defensive MVP of a state title game twice and began his college career at Lamar University as a defensive back.
“I told them at halftime, you are going to have to overcome the mistake that I made at the end of the second quarter,” said Davis. “We had two timeouts left and had moved the ball when we had it and the thought was, we might be able to get a field goal. We as coaches were on them pretty hard in the first half, and we let them know that it was because they needed to wake up and show how good of a football team they are in the second half.”
The Co-Lin defense, which totaled six sacks on the day, shut down the Navarro offense in the second half.
The Wolves went back ahead 14-13 when Tott found sophomore receiver Jaylen Smith for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 6:08 left in the third quarter.
Navarro used another quarterback, Mason Shorb, throughout the game on Saturday. Shorb was sacked for a 7-yard loss by defensive lineman Kevontay Wells on the first play after Co-Lin went back up. That helped force a 3-and-out.
On the following drive, Co-Lin went up 21-13 when freshman running back Tray Minor (Natchez High) scored from 12-yards out.
That score held until the fourth quarter, when fittingly, the final Co-Lin touchdown of 2023 was scored by sophomore running back Johnnie Daniels.
Daniels capped a big season by being the first recruit to give his verbal commitment to play for new Mississippi State head coach Jeff Lebby earlier in the week.
Daniels, who prepped at Crystal Springs High, rushed the ball 183 times in 2023 for 1,253 yards. He averaged 104 yards per game, 6.8 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns. His longest run of the season went for 88 yards.
With a quick and easy smile and a dogged determination to not go down while running the ball, Daniels has endeared himself greatly to the Co-Lin fan base during his career.
His final touchdown playing for Co-Lin came with 5:19 remaining in the game. It was from the 4-yard line and was the fifth carry for Daniels on the drive. It was set up by a 64-yard pass from Tott to receiver Carlos Martin (Laurel High).
Tott, who transferred to Wesson from McNeese State and was a two-year starter at quarterback, finished the season with 1,964 yards and 12 touchdowns passes. He also rushed for 228 yards and four more scores.
On Saturday, Tott went 8-of-16 for 196 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Mays led the way with three catches for 98 yards.
Navarro made it a one possession game with 1:42 left in the fourth quarter when Jentsch found an open receiver on a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Jaylen Smith recovered the onside kick after that though and Co-Lin was able to kneel the ball in the victory formation.
Co-Lin defensive back Jahron Manning was named MVP of the game for the winning side. He made three tackles, broke up one pass and snagged an interception. Sophomore defensive back Christopher Burnett also made an interception that he returned 33 yards.
Freshman linebacker Lakendrick James (Northside High) led the CLCC defense with nine tackles. James was also in on two sacks that went for 21 yards lost and four total tackles for a loss that cost the Bulldogs 26 yards.
Sophomore linebacker Collin McGowan (Wesson) wrapped up a solid career at Co-Lin by making seven total tackles.
Many of the sophomores will soon sign to continue their careers over the coming weeks. Defensive lineman Billy Pullen has nearly 20 offers, Manning is pledged to sign with Southeastern Louisiana, sophomore tight end Tyler Fortenberry is committed to Southern Miss and has several other offers and defensive back Navarion Benson is another Wolf with multiple Division I offers to choose from.
They’ll go on to play at four-year colleges and universities all around the country. They’ll take more with them than just the associate degrees earned in the classrooms of Co-Lin.
They’ll also take with them the memories of being part of a group that played with a closeness and togetherness that pushed them to a 10-win season, one of the best in Co-Lin’s history.
“On Saturday we talked about how rare these opportunities are and how you’ve got to make the most of them,” said Davis. “The chance to win your division or play for a state title or play in a bowl game, those don’t come around often in life, and you better enjoy them when they do come. This was a special group of guys that really understood what it means to be a team.”