SCOOBA, Miss. - With the national championship of junior college football at stake, the second-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College travel to Yuma, Ariz., to meet the home-standing and top-ranked Matadors of Arizona Western College Saturday afternoon in the El Toro Bowl - presented by Time Warner Cable. Kickoff for the 2011 NJCAA Football Championship at AWC's Veterans Memorial Stadium is slated for 2:30 p.m. MT (3:30 p.m. CT).
With video and audio production services provided by Meridian-based Prep Sports Network Now (www.psnnow.com), in conjunction with the NJCAA and Arizona Western College, Saturday's national championship contest is scheduled to be televised live locally on My Mississippi (WCBI-DT2). My MS can be viewed by all cable and over the air households in the Columbus/Tupelo market, which includes but not limited to the Mississippi counties of Calhoun, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Clay, Itawamba, Lee, Lowndes, Monroe, Montgomery, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tishomingo, Union, Webster, Winston and Yalobusha, as well as Lamar County in Alabama. In addition, WCBI-TV's channel for over the air viewers is channel 4.2.
Additionally, through the combined efforts of the NJCAA, iHigh.com and Arizona Western's Matador Sports Network, a live video-streamed broadcast of Saturday's NJCAA-sanctioned championship gridiron contest will also be available online at www.njcaatv.ihigh.com.
As was the case throughout the regular season and during the MACJC State Playoffs, Saturday's national title clash between EMCC and AWC will be broadcast live on WFCA-FM Radio, 107.9 out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Glen Beard calling the play-by-play action along with John Lyle Briggs handling the sideline reporting duties. The live audio-streamed radio broadcast can also be accessed online through EMCC's athletics website - http://athletics.eastms.edu - as well as by logging onto www.wfcafm108.com.
Pitting a pair of undefeated (11-0) teams, Saturday's EMCC-AWC gridiron battle will mark a rematch of the 2009 Mississippi Bowl played in Biloxi. Two years ago at Biloxi Indian Stadium, the EMCC Lions, ranked fifth nationally at the time, claimed a 27-24 victory over then-No. 6 Arizona Western. In that prior meeting, East Mississippi jumped out to an early 13-0 lead and held a 20-17 advantage at halftime. After 17 unanswered points by the AWC Matadors, the Randall Mackey-led Lions reclaimed the lead for good with a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter. Battling through a scoreless fourth quarter by both teams, EMCC secured the program's first-ever, 11-win season with a pair of pass interceptions over the game's final four minutes.
As was the case in 2009 when the two teams met in the Mississippi Bowl, this year's EMCC-AWC bowl matchup figures to feature a run-oriented Matador offense versus the Lions' top-rated passing attack. Under the record-breaking, quarterbacking leadership of NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year candidate Bo Wallace, East Mississippi continues to lead the NJCAA in team passing offense and total team offense, averaging 380.5 yards through the air and 553.2 yards of total offense per game on the year. With sophomore running back Damien Williams leading the way as the nation's top rusher (162.3 yards per game), Arizona Western is ranked sixth nationally as a team in averaging 246 rushing yards per contest for the season. Additionally, AWC owns the NJCAA's top-rated defensive unit against the run, allowing an average of only 34.2 rushing yards per game on the year.
In addition to already establishing new single-season NJCAA standards for most passing yards (4,118) and total offense yards (4,324), EMCC's Wallace, a former redshirt at Arkansas State University by way of Pulaski, Tenn., needs four more touchdown passes to match the current NJCAA season record of 50 touchdowns thrown by Tony DeLeon of Vermilion Community College (Minn.) in 1992.
Along with Wallace, East Mississippi CC features several other players ranked among the nation's individual offensive statistical leaders. In becoming the Lions' first 1,000-yard rusher since current Tampa Bay Buccaneers back LeGarrette Blount, EMCC freshman running back Rodriguez Moore (Bastrop, La.) ranks fifth nationally with 1,196 rushing yards this year. Among the Lions' talented receiving corps, sophomore Lacoltan Bester, of Kemper County, stands third among NJCAA leaders in receptions (68) and receiving yards (980), in addition to ranking second with 15 touchdown receptions and tied for ninth in scoring among non-kickers with 90 points. Sophomore receiver/returner Rodney Davis (Millbrook, Ala.) stands seventh in the NJCAA with 836 receiving yards (on 43 catches) and fifth with 600 kickoff return yards (on 21 runbacks).
Defensively, freshman safety Justin Cox, of West Point, is in a 12th-place tie with five pass interceptions on the year. On special teams, sophomore placekicker Taylor Walker, from Northwest Rankin High School, is tied for fifth nationally among kickers with 82 points scored on 67-of-71 point-after-touchdown tries and 5-of-10 field-goal attempts.
Under the guidance of 2011 NJCAA Region 23 and MACJC North Division Coach of the Year Buddy Stephens, the EMCC Lions have put together a composite overall record of 35-8 (.814) dating back to the 2008 season, including a pair of 11-win campaigns and two MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Championships over the past three years. East Mississippi has also claimed three MACJC North Division regular-season titles since 2008 with a collective division mark of 22-2 (.917).
With a similar success rate dating back to 2008, the Arizona Western College football program has compiled an equally impressive four-year record of 35-9 (.795) under the direction of head coach Tom Minnick. The Matadors captured their third consecutive Western States Football League (WSFL) championship this season by reaching the 11-win plateau for the first time in school history.
Statistically, both East Mississippi and Arizona Western have put up tremendous offensive numbers this season. The Lions are averaging 46.7 points per contest, including five games with 50 or more points, and out-scoring the opposition by an average margin of nearly 26 points an outing. Similarly, the Matadors are ringing up an average of 50.5 points a game while giving up only 11.1 points per contest on the year.
After a 38-year hiatus, the El Toro Bowl returns to the national scene for the first time since 1972 when home-standing Arizona Western claimed a 36-8 victory over Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College to cap an undefeated season and seal the Matadors' first-ever National Championship. The El Toro Bowl previously ranked as one of the NJCAA's premier bowl games during a five-year span (1968-72) four decades ago.
East Mississippi Community College is bidding to become the fifth school from the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) to garner at least a share of the NJCAA Football Championship. Most recently, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC claimed a share of the 2007 National Championship with Butler CC (Kan.). The MGCCC Bulldogs also previously won national titles in 1984 and 1971. With current EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens as well as current EMCC associate head coach/defensive coordinator William Jones on the coaching staff at Pearl River CC, the Wildcats earned the 2004 NJCAA National Championship. During back-to-back years two decades ago, Mississippi Delta and Northwest Mississippi claimed national titles in 1993 and 1992, respectively. The Northwest Rangers also previously collected national team honors in 1982.