December 7, 2009 12:02:00 PM
BILOXI ---The East Mississippi Community College football team''s historical season continued Sunday with a 27-24 win against Arizona Western College in the second-annual Mississippi Bowl at Biloxi Stadium.
The win allowed the Lions, ranked No. 5, to cap off head coach Buddy Stephens second season with a school record 11 wins to go win one loss.
EMCC, which won its first state championship last month by beating Gulf Coast 75-71, made the school''s first bowl appearance since a 1963 visit to the Hospitality Bowl in Gulfport.
The Lions, looking to move up in the final JUCO poll, improved to 19-3 duirng Stephens'' tenure, including a perfect 12-0 mark in North Division play the last two seasons.
"What a year," Stephens said. "This is a special group. Such a special group of young men. I am so proud of them.
After jumping out to a 20-7 lead in the first quarter, the Lions only scored seven points in the final 45 minutes as the Matadors, 9-2, rallied to take their only lead of the game at 24-20 on the opening possession of the second half.
The drive, one that covered 68-yards, ended on a 36-yard scoring run by Reggie Bullock with 12:51 left in the third. Bullock, the nation''s leading rusher at 162 yards per game, rushed for 116 yards on 29 carries.
Following the score, the Matadors forced EMCC to punt on its initial possession of the second half and looked primed to stretch the lead after moving to the Lions'' 8-yard line.
But a 25-yard field goal attempt by Othello Kossigbo was wide left.
East Mississippi responded with an 80-yard scoring drive that was capped off when Randall Mackey threw a 5-yard scoring pass, his 32nd of the season, to Lance Lewis, his 16th touchdown reception.
Arizona Western, however, marched 50 yards before Kossigbo missed a 31-yard field goal wide right.
From that point in the game, the Lions defense stiffened and forced a pair of interceptions of Matador quarterback Brandon Gorsuch, one by Izauea Lanier and the final pick by T.J. Ballou at midfield with 49 seconds left.
"We played hard on defense, they never quit against a very good offense," Stephens said. "They had a good scheme for us. They had the ball for 80 or more plays. They are good,
"I am surprised they lost a ball game this year."`
The first half saw EMCC take a 20-7 lead on a 90-yard kickoff return by Derrick Steele and two touchdown passes from Mackey, who finished the game with 275 all purpose yards.
"We felt like, if the had a weakness, it was on special team," Stephens said. "We worked hard on that all week and Steele just happened to bust it."
Mackey''s other scoring pass, a 27-yard strike to Cedrick Blanks, gave the Lions a 20-7 lead.
"But the Matadors closed out the first half by scoring the final 10 points, including a drive that took 9:16 off the clock before Kossuth connected on a 26-yard field goal with 1:05 left.
"A great season," Stephens said. "We won more games than any team in the history of the school, That means a lot to the players and to me."