COPPERAS COVE — With game-time temperatures in the low 20’s and frozen turf at Bulldawg Stadium making footing an issue, there was one thing that heated up the Heart of Texas Bowl.
The play of former area standouts helped the Trinity Valley Community College Cardinals finish their season with a dominant 72-23 win over the Mesa Community College Thunderbirds on Saturday.
Thanks in part to D’Andre Banks’ big blocks, Darrius White’s possession-changing interception and Seth Culp’s crushing tackles, the Cardinals finished with the a 10-win season.
“I don’t know about this cold weather, but it feels good to come back and get this ‘W’,” White said with a smile. “It feels good.”
The Cardinals (10-2) made their first bowl appearance in two years and made this trip worthwhile by dominating in the trenches.
The conditions were ideal for TVCC’s run game and Banks, a former Harker Heights Knight, was prepared from the first snap. He was the only member of the Cardinals team to go without long sleeves under his shoulder pads.
“If you’re a real warrior, you really don’t need sleeves,” Banks said. “I came out trying to make a statement and I think our rushing attack did that.”
“He’s from CenTex; Banks is going to put out for his city,” White said. “He’s got that tough skin.”
Banks and the offensive line helped pave the way for freshman running back Luis Lopez to run for 164 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries and earn HOT Bowl MVP honors.
The Cardinals finished with 377 yards on 46 carries, 28 first downs and 613 yards of total offense.
“D’Andre’s a great kid, a tough kid and he started for us all year,” TVCC head coach Brad Smiley said. “I couldn’t be more proud than to finish it off like this.”
TVCC’s offense came out on fire right from the start as Ryan Polite hit Trent Momon for a 43-yard touchdown pass on TVCC’s first offensive play of the game to put the Cardinals ahead 7-0 just 1:39 into the game.
Polite completed 14 of 22 passes for 200 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Lopez kept thing going with touchdown runs from 39 and two yards up the middle that put TVCC up 28-3 with 14:54 remaining in the second quarter.
Banks helped spring Lopez on both runs from the left guard position.
“It feels great,” Banks said about Lopez’s honor. “If he did good, that means we did great as well. It always feels great to get one of them the MVP.”
Tavarreon Dickerson came into the game as the team’s leading scorer and set a HOT Bowl record for longest play from scrimmage with an 88-yard rushing score that made it 35-3 TVCC early in the second. TVCC took a 42-16 lead into the break at halftime.
Dickerson finished the game with 126 yards on seven attempts and a score.
The Cardinals defense came up big and helped TVCC put the game away early on.
Tray Thornton returned a fumble 22 yards for a touchdown midway through the first and Ke’Andre Love returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The TVCC defense held Mesa CC (8-3) to a field goal twice, including a drive that came after a fumble that saw the Thunderbirds have a first-and-10 from the Cardinals 11.
“We had three turnovers and our defense held them to three points on both and that’s huge,” Smiley said.
White only had the ball thrown his direction once, but made the most of it.
He intercepted Thunderbirds quarterback Torrance Carr at the TVCC 20 in the final minute of the second quarter. White finished the season with three interceptions.
“The ball went right in my hands,” the former Belton Tiger said.
White played his final game at TVCC and said he is taking a recruiting trip to Middle Tennessee next week.
“He’s got such a bright future ahead of him,” Smiley said about White. “Whoever is lucky enough to sign him at the next level is going to get a heck of a player, but more importantly, a great kid.”
Before White’s interception, Culp came through with a big tackle on Mesa’s previous drive.
With the Thunderbirds facing a third-and-2 from the TVCC 14, the former Temple Wildcat came up with a tackle for a 3-yard loss that forced Mesa to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Brian Franklin that cut the Cardinals lead to 35-13 with 8:36 remaining in the first half.
White said the game offered him a sense of redemption since he lost the last game he played at Bulldawg Stadium, a Heights loss.
“I actually told the head coach beforehand that I went 0-4 all throughout high school and he said ‘We’re going to get you your first win here in college,’” White said. “And we sure did.”