December 9, 2013 9:24:13 AM
BILOXI -- Byerson Cockrell was looking back and looking ahead Sunday moments after his playing career at East Mississippi Community College.
Cockrell was all smiles as he hugged family members and teammates minutes after No. 2 EMCC beat No. 1 Georgia Military College 52-32 at Biloxi High School's Indian Stadium to win the sixth Mississippi Bowl and the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship.
"I never thought anything like this could happen," Cockrell said. "I am so blessed I picked this college. I made the right decision when it came time to figure out where to play. We worked so hard during the spring and summer. Now we have a championship."
Cockrell recorded a couple of pass breakups and a tackle for loss in the victory.
After the game, Cockrell confirmed he gave a verbal commitment Thursday to the University of Nebraska. Scheduled to complete his degree work this week, Cockrell will be eligible to sign with the Cornhuskers next week during the NCAA signing period for early enrollee junior college athletes. The early signees can report to their senior colleges in January.
"I prayed about it and talked to my mom about it. I think it is the right school for me," Cockrell said. "They are losing four cornerbacks, so I can come in and play my natural position. I feel like that is the best possible situation I could hope for. Even though it is far away, it is time to go and be a man."
Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph has been Cockrell's primary contact and was at the bowl game.
The latest edition of the Mississippi Bowl was the first that determined the NJCAA national champion.
"It was everything we hoped for when we created the game," Mississippi Bowl Committee Chair Ladd Taylor said. "To bring the national championship game to the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a huge shot in the arm for this game."
Despite less than ideal conditions, the game drew a capacity crowd. Fans waited in long lines to gain admission to the stadium right up to kickoff.
An estimated 50 senior college coaches and representatives from at least 12 NFL organizations were in attendance.
"You are always looking for ways to make your product better," Taylor said. "However, the feedback from this year's game was incredibly encouraging."
Mississippi teams are 5-1 in the game, including a 2-0 mark for EMCC.
No season greetings
The mood was set in the pregame when stadium security had to enter the playing surface to help break up a skirmish between the teams at midfield.
Tempers flared during the 3-hour, 45-minute game. However, officials quickly restored order.
The teams were penalized 26 times for 290 yards. Four other penalties were declined. EMCC was penalized 17 times for 200 yards.
Two players from each team were disqualified for receiving multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Both teams even needed to be restrained during the postgame trophy presentation at midfield.
The other Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges institution in the postseason play didn't have success.
Hinds C.C. dropped a 34-27 decision to Navarro College in the Brazos Valley Bowl on Saturday in Bryan, Texas.
Navarro running back Tim Wright had four rushing touchdowns, including a game-winning 10-yard rush with 10 seconds remaining in regulation, to help the Bulldogs rally from a 27-13 deficit in the third quarter.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter