Vance Jones has been on the sidelines in West Texas for about twice as long as I’ve been alive; Jones is verging on 50 years of coaching, most of it at the six-man level. Some notable moments include leading his alma mater, the now defunct Marathon football program, to a state title in 1976, despite being the only team in its district and playing a primarily 11-man schedule. Jones also led Sanderson to the state finals in 2002, and won back-to-back titles with Garden City in 2009 and 2010.
Jones could have ended his career on a high note with Garden City, but decided to continue to do what he has done best, and took the reins at Balmorhea in 2012. The coach took the Bears from a 5-6 record the season before to a 10-3 record and a third round playoff appearance. Balmorhea has qualified for the playoffs in every year since Jones took over, and in 2016 the Bears reached a major milestone, taking a trip to Arlington for their first state championship appearance in school history. Unfortunately awaiting the Bears was a juggernaut team in Richland Springs. Despite playing the Coyotes close in the first quarter, RS ran away with it and went on to win 96-50.
After opening the season with back-to-back shutouts against Rankin and Fort Davis, the Bears began to allow points but continued to rack up the wins, including a 45-35 win over Garden City on the road in week four. Balmorhea scored an average of 55.8 points per game in the non-district portion, while allowing an average of 11.5 points per game.
District 5-1A DII play started off hot for the Bears, rattling off back-to-back shutouts over Sierra Blanca and Sanderson to begin. Balmorhea took an extra bye week after Dell City forfeited to prepare for the finale against Grandfalls-Royalty, a 40-16 win. After scoring 62 points back-to-back against Welch Dawson and Jayton to open the postseason, the Bears and Cowboys faced off again, this time Balmorhea recorded an 87-42 shootout win. The Bears then took on perennial powerhouse Turkey Valley in the semifinals, and prevailed with a 74-52 win; the season then ended with the heartbreaker against Richland Springs.
Balmorhea is in an unusual but positive place, as the 2016 team had no senior starters.
RB Kyle Garcia, FB/LB Marcos Mendoza, QB Marco Martinez
Garcia rushed for 2,005 yards and racked up 35 touchdowns en route to earning first team all district and state honors at the running back position.Garcia and Mendoza, who collected 150 tackles, 771 receiving yards and 20 scores, are one of the better duos in six-man. Martinez earned first team all-district and state honors at the quarterback position in 2016; the signal-caller completed 71 passes for 1,322 yards and 41 touchdowns.
A repeat of the 1A DII title is quite plausible, as Balmorhea not only returns their top players from last season, the entire group of offensive and defensive starters return as well. Having familiarity with your teammates goes a long way, especially in six-man football, and the Bears will have a lot of chemistry to begin the 2017 campaign. Not only chemistry with teammates, but extreme familiarity with the schedule; Balmorhea’s schedule is nearly identical to that of last season, the same teams but with different venues. Travel however shouldn’t be a big issue, evidenced by the big road wins against Fort Davis, Garden City and Midland Trinity in non-district last season.
The Bears open 5-1A DII play at home against Sierra Blanca, and barring a forfeit, will also face Dell City at home. Should Balmorhea reach the postseason, a rematch against Turkey Valley may occur deep into the run, but the most intriguing question is if the Bears are prepared for a rematch against the mighty Richland Springs in the state championship.
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