December 6, 2009 1:08:00 AM
SCOOBA - Today''s Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi figures to be a formidable matchup of two of the nation''s rising junior college football programs.
Paired together from opposite sides of the cournty, the No. 5 East Mississippi Community College Lions (10-1) will meet the sixth-ranked Matadors of Arizona Western College (9-1).
Kickoff for the Mississippi Gulf Coast''s second-annual junior college bowl event is set for 2 p.m. at Biloxi Indian Stadium.
Despite the fact that the pairing looks to feature two contrasting offensive styles with EMCC''s explosive spread offense attack and Arizona Western''s proficient run-oriented game plan, both revamped programs have ascended to the top 10 nationally with similar credentials.
The similarities begin with a pair of highly regarded second-year head coaches.
East Mississippi''s Buddy Stephens, the NJCAA Region 23 Coach of the Year, has guided the Lions to a two-year composite record of 18-3, which includes a perfect 12-0 collective mark in divisional play and back-to-back North Division titles within the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MACJC). Along with directing EMCC to consecutive state playoff appearances for the first time in school history, Stephens'' 2009 Lions claimed the program''s first-ever state football championship with a memorable 75-71 home victory against two-time defending state champions Mississippi Gulf Coast back on Nov. 7.
Second-year Arizona Western coach Tom Minnick has led the Matadors to a collective mark of 14-6 in his two seasons at the Yuma, Ariz., school following a successful two-year head coaching stint at Joliet (Ill.) Junior College. In guiding this year''s 9-1 team to the Western States Football League regular-season championship - the school''s first league title since 1981. Minnick was selected the WSFL and Region 1 Coach of the Year.
Along with pitting a pair of revitalized football programs sporting impressive records, both East Mississippi and Arizona Western continue to make football history at their respective schools. Having tied the school''s all-time, single-season standard for wins, the 10-1 Lions are making their first postseason bowl appearance since Hall of Fame head coach Bob "Bull" Sullivan''s 1963 EMJC squad went 10-1-1 and beat Tyler (Texas) Junior College in the Hospitality Bowl played in Gulfport. With their first nine-win season since 1972, the Matadors of Arizona Western are making their first bowl appearance since 1998.
In addition to boasting respective regional coach of the year recipients, both teams feature their share of individual talent on the field as well.
The Lions had 14 players earn either NJCAA All-Region 23 or MACJC All-North State honors this season, while the Matadors placed 13 different players on either All-WSFL or All-Region 1 football teams.
Both nationally rated offenses also showcase two of the nation''s premier offensive talents in two-time NJCAA Region 23 Offensive MVP Randall Mackey, of East Mississippi, and WSFL and Region 1 Offensive Player of the Year Reggie Bullock, of Arizona Western.
Mackey, a preseason NJCAA All-America quarterback from Louisiana, ranks among the nation''s top three leaders in virtually every statistical category for passing and total offense.
In contrast, Bullock, a freshman running back from Las Vegas, Nevada, leads the nation in rushing yards per game and ranks third in rushing touchdowns.
The contest will be broadcast by WFCA-FM radio (107.9) with Jason Crowder set to describe the play-by-play action and Glen Beard slated to provide the color analysis. The game can be heard online via EMCC''s athletics website - http://athletics.eastms.edu - or by logging onto www.wfca108.com.
1. MUW joins United States Collegiate Athletic Association COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Local academy baseball players earn all-state honors HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS