Coast football fans will get a chance to see the junior college national champion crowned Dec. 3 when No. 1 East Mississippi plays No. 2 Arizona Western at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s A.L. May Memorial Stadium.
The event will mark the fourth time in five seasons that the annual Mississippi Bowl will serve as the national championship game.
EMCC (10-1) has been a mainstay in the Mississippi Bowl, as this year’s 2 p.m. kickoff will mark the Lions’ fifth appearance in the bowl; EMCC defeated Arizona Western 27-24 in 2009, topped Georgia Military College 52-32 in 2013, beat Iowa Western 34-17 in 2014 and bested Kilgore 27-17 last season.
EMCC, dubbed “Last Chance U,” thanks in large part to a GQ article chronicling the program and then the highly popular Netflix series, had another spectacular year. Buddy Stephens crew stamped their ticket to Perkinston by clipping No. 4 Northwest Mississippi 67-66 in double overtime after going for two in the final frame to claim another MACJC title.
The Lions lead the nation in scoring at a 50.9 ppg clip. Their total offense of 516.6 yards is fourth nationally.
EMCC features several former Coast prep standouts in Pascagoula running back Reginald Hunter, Biloxi kicker Grayson Pontius, Vancleave kicker Taylor Crabtree, George County linebacker Kaleb Gentry and Pascagoula defensive linemen Rasheed Jackson and Jauan Collins.
Hunter rushed for for 101 yards and two touchdowns in 16 carries this year. Crabtree made 9 of 12 field goals and 65 extra points for 90 points. He also averaged 39.5 yards on 13 punts. Pontius made one field goal, converted all six extra points and averaged 38.8 yards on 16 punts.
Defensively, Jackson recorded eight tackles with one TFL. Collins made six stops.
Showdown in Perkinston
Arizona Western (9-0) earned a return trip to the Coast after winning the Western States Football League title. The Matadors aren’t far behind the Lions’ offense, averaging 41 ppg and 474.7 yards per contest.
This year’s clash between the Lions and Matadors will mark their first meeting since EMCC topped Arizona Western 55-47 in the 2011 El Toro Bowl in Yuma, Arizona.
Should EMCC pull out the win, it will mark the program’s fourth NJCAA title in seven seasons. It would also make the Lions the first MACJC program to lay claim to four titles, moving the Lions past Northwest (1982, 1992 and 2015) and MGCCC (1971, 1984 and 2007). Butler (Kansas) and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M have the national record with six titles apiece.
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students. Chairback tickets are being sold for $20 and can be purchased at MississippiBowl.com.
Past Mississippi Bowl results
2008: Gulf Coast 41, Georgia Military College 7
2009: East Mississippi 27, Arizona Western 24
2010: Gulf Coast 62, Grand Rapids 53
2011: Gulf Coast 46, Blinn 17
2012: Garden City 31, Copiah-Lincoln 29
2013: East Mississippi 52, Georgia Military College 32
2014: East Mississippi 34, Iowa Western 17
2015: Northwest Mississippi 66, Rochester 13
2016: East Mississippi 27, Kilgore 17
2017: East Mississippi vs. Arizona Western; 2 p.m. on Dec. 3 in Perkinston