November 12, 2014 1:13:57 AM
After weeks of speculation, the dream matchup became official Tuesday afternoon.
The National Junior College Athletic Association released its 2014 bowl lineup. For a second straight season, the NJCAA national championship game will take place on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the Mississippi Bowl.
No. 1 East Mississippi Community College (11-0) will take on No. 2 Iowa Western Community College (11-0) in a 2 p.m. start on Dec. 7 at the Biloxi High School's Indian Stadium.
"This is the matchup we wanted and the bowl game we wanted, so we are very excited that it all worked out," seventh-year EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "We are very excited about giving our fans a chance to come to the coast to see a national championship game. The kids are obviously excited about playing in our state as well. This is really an outstanding way to end the season."
A year ago, EMCC won its second national championship by beating Georgia Military College 52-32 in the Mississippi Bowl.
The Lions were never in danger of not receiving another invite to that bowl game as the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state champion.
However, EMCC, which was ranked in the preseason No. 1, fell to No. 2 two weeks ago. When Iowa Western took over the top spot in the land, it appeared possible that EMCC would have to bypass the Mississippi Bowl and travel to Iowa instead to compete for the national title.
However, the final poll of the regular season Monday reversed the two teams again.
Thus, EMCC accepted the Mississippi Bowl invite as the state champions and the bowl itself quickly secured the nation's No. 2 team to set up a national championship match.
"With four wins over Top 10 teams, it was really hard to argue our resume," Stephens said. "We felt like if they evaluated the whole season we would get a chance to be No. 1. Playing for the national championship is the bottom line, wherever the game is played. However, it is pretty obvious from a travel standpoint, we are glad to have it right here."
EMCC was ranked No. 2 last season when it got to invite then-No. 1 Georgia Military College to the coast. Since GMC did not have a bowl tie-in and EMCC did, the Lions earned the right to host the national championship game. EMCC was also ranked No. 2 in 2011 when it traveled to Yuma, Arizona, and beat No. 1 Arizona Western College 55-47 in the El Toro Bowl.
EMCC is 3-0 under Stephens in bowl games. The Lions also played in the 2009 Mississippi Bowl, where it defeated Arizona Western College 27-24 to finish fourth nationally.
EMCC nailed down its fourth state championship under Stephens with a 54-15 win over No. 12 Copiah-Lincoln Community College Saturday afternoon.
"We feel like we really had to make a statement," EMCC sophomore defensive back Quan Latham. "Everybody was disappointed when we fell to second. It was really hard to believe, because we had won all of our games. The coaches just told us to stay focused and everything would work out in the end."
Iowa Western won the 2012 NJCAA national championship.
The Reivers finished second nationally a year ago after they won the Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Overall, Iowa Western has won 34 of its last 35 games, while EMCC has won 23 straight and 43 of its last 45.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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