COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (WCBI/EMCC Athletics) – The top-ranked and MACJC state champion Lions of East Mississippi Community College (10-1) will meet the No. 2 Arizona Western College Matadors (9-0) on Sunday, Dec. 3 in Mississippi Bowl X for the 2017 NJCAA National Football Championship. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. at historic A.L. May Memorial Stadium on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston.
Next month’s trip to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast will mark EMCC’s fifth appearance in the Mississippi Bowl since the MGCCC-hosted bowl game kicked off in 2008. A year ago in Perkinston, No. 3 East Mississippi claimed a 27-17 win over 13th-ranked Kilgore College. Prior to that, the Lions captured back-to-back NJCAA championships at the 2013 and 2014 events played previously at Biloxi High School. The 2013 EMCC squad beat top-ranked Georgia Military College, 52-32, and followed the next year with a 34-17 triumph over No. 2 Iowa Western College. In 2009, the Lions earned a 27-24 win over Arizona Western in Mississippi Bowl II.
East Mississippi and Arizona Western most recently met on the gridiron for the NJCAA championship during the 2011 El Toro Bowl in Yuma, Ariz. The Lions posted a 55-47 victory over the top-ranked Matadors to register their first of three national titles during a four-year span (2011-14).
Aiming for their fourth NJCAA football championship in seven years, Coach Buddy Stephens’ 2017 EMCC Lions enter next month’s Mississippi Bowl with a 10-1 overall record after claiming their sixth MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 championship in nine years during Saturday’s thrilling 67-66 double-overtime road win over then-No. 4 Northwest Mississippi in Senatobia. Prior to that, East Mississippi earned a 24-20 road victory at then-No. 6 Jones County in the MACJC state semifinals after closing out the regular season with a 51-41 road triumph over then-No. 7 Hinds.
As the school’s all-time leader in career wins with a 10-year head coaching mark of 97-13 (.882) and ranked as the NJCAA’s all-time leader in career winning percentage for coaches with 100 or more career games coached, EMCC’s Stephens owns a 5-0 record in bowl games. Along with prior national championship wins in the 2013 and 2014 Mississippi Bowl games over Georgia Military and Iowa Western, respectively, as well as an initial national title victory in the 2011 El Toro Bowl over host Arizona Western, Stephens’ Lions also earned previous Mississippi Bowl victories over Kilgore last year and in 2009 over Arizona Western.
With recent NJCAA football titles in 2011, 2013 and 2014, East Mississippi is bidding to become the first Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) member school to claim four national championships. Currently, Northwest Mississippi (1982, 1992 & 2015) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (1971, 1984 & 2007) also have three national titles to their credit. Butler (KS) and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M presently share the all-time national record with six NJCAA football championships apiece.
Likewise in his 10th season as head football coach at Arizona Western, Tom Minnick’s Matadors concluded the regular season undefeated for the second straight year. Also finishing as the nation’s second-ranked team in the final regular-season NJCAA Top 20 poll for the second consecutive season, AWC most recently posted a 66-14 win over Scottsdale this past Saturday to claim a second straight Western States Football League title. The Mats began the current season ranked as the nation’s No. 1 team after falling to Garden City Community College during last year’s NJCAA Football Championship Game.
Additional information on this year’s Mississippi Bowl X national championship matchup between No. 1 East Mississippi and No. 2 Arizona Western can be found online at www.mississippibowl.com. Available for purchase through the bowl game’s website, tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students. A limited number of chairback tickets in the home grandstand (EMCC side) are available for $20.