The Pilgrim's Pride Bowl Classic set for Sam Parker Field in Mt. Pleasant, Tex. and will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest and Fox Sports South.
The two teams enter the third-annual bowl game off their respective conference championships. Blinn, located in Brenham, Tex., defeated 17th-ranked Kilgore (Tex.) 20-14 in overtime Dec. 2 for the Southwest Junior College Football Conference title; while Pearl River trimmed Copiah-Lincoln 21-20 Nov. 11 for its fourth-straight Mississippi Association of Community & Junior College championship.
The Wildcats, who won the its second-ever national championship in 2004 with a 35-14 victory over Butler (Kan.) in the Dalton Defenders Bowl in Coffeyville, Kan., are 10-1. The Bucs are 11-0.
PRCC head coach Tim Hatten, who is 47-6 in his five seasons with the Wildcats, says his 2006 squad is facing an excellent football team in Blinn.
"This one has the makings of an excellent football game," Hatten said. "We're going up against a great running team that runs its offense very effectly.
"Blinn's a lot like Co-Lin on both sides of the ball," he continued. "Defensively they move around and play a lot of man coverage. That's something they've done well against some very good football teams in their league all through the season. But when you predominately stay in man, you're very susceptable to giving up the big play. That's our goal...make some big plays and take advantage of that."
Blinn head coach Brad Franchione, son of Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione, is 18-3 in his two years in Brenhan and his 7-3 team in his inaugural season were runners-up to Trinity Valley (Tex.) for the SWJCFC title with a 30-27 loss to the Cardinals in 2005.
Trinity Valley went on to defeat Northeast Mississippi 24-14 in last year's bowl game, while Pima (Ariz.) squeaked past Kilgore 10-7 in the bowl's inaugural battle in 2004.
The Bucs' offensive attack is centered around the NJCAA's second-leading rusher and scorer in 5-foot-10, 190-pound running back Bernard Scott, who has rushed for 1,699 yards and 26 touchdowns through 11 games and averages 154.5 yards per game. In addition, Scott has scored 172 total points heading into Saturday's title bout with 28 touchdowns and two two-point conversions.
"The Scott kid is a good player that's a patient runner and follows his blocks extremely well," Hatten said. "He can cut on a dime behind a huge offensive line."
PRCC six-year defensive coordinator William Jones also lauded Scott.
"He's (Scott) as good as any we've played since I've been here (at Pearl River)," Jones said. "He's very similar to (Aaron) Johns at Co-Lin and (Dantrelle) Savage (former Mississippi Gulf Coast running back now at Oklahome State). Scott runs with authority. He has speed and strength and can take the distance any time he touches the ball."
Buc quarterback Bran Guidry, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore, is ranks 19th among NJCAA passers, connecting on 71.5 percent (128 of 179) of his throws with only four interceptions. The sophomore has passed for 1,471 yards and 16 scores, averaging 133.7 yards an outing.
"Guidry is a very efficient quarterback and makes key throws at critical times," Jones added. "He's not the most mobile quarterback you'll see, but he was the athletic ability to get out of trouble despite his having a slightly injured knee."
Hatten said what Guidry may lacks in mobility is made up with his excellent passing abilities.
"He (Guidry) doesn't throw a lot...Blinn's probably 75 percent run, 25 percent pass," Hatten added. "But he makes smart throws. I think he's only thrown four interceptions the entire 11 games of the season."
Pearl River, which averages an eighth-best 355 total offensive yards (2,377 pass, 1,561 rush) in the nation, is one tiny notch above Blinn's ninth-best total of 352.6.
Running back Seth Hayden, a sophomore who prepped at Pearl River Central, leads the Wildcats' ground game with 874 yards on 155 carries and is 126 yards shy of becoming Pearl River's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1993. Hayden has scored 16 touchdowns (14 rush, two receiving) and a two-point conversion for a MACJC-best 98 points.
"Seth comes to play 100 percent every time we take the field," Hatten said. "He got banged up a bit earlier in the season, but he's got a set of fresh legs under him now and has been looking great in practice. Seth's going to be fine come Saturday."
South Florida transfer Carlton Hill of Monticello, Fla., has progress well at the quarterback position since taking over the signal-calling reins in the second half of the Jones game Oct. 14.
"Carlton's come a long way since he made the trasition from wide receiver against Jones," Hatten said. "I expect a big game from him."
Wide receivers Demetrius Byrd of Miami, Fla., Larry Freeman of Ft. Meade, Fla., and J.J. Smith of Forrest County AHS have combined for 1,727 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns thus far with Byrd leading the way with 43 catches for 689 yards and five TDs — all team-high numbers.
Byrd caught a leaping 36-yard touchdown with 56 seconds left to propel the Wildcats to its one-point victory over Co-Lin for the state title Nov. 11. Freeman, who led the team in receiving yardage a year ago with 800, has 507 thus far as the sophomore handled the quarterbacking duties for four games after original starter Michael Greco went down with a broken collarbone on the last play of the first half in PRCC's 31-21 regular season loss in the regular season against Co-Lin.
The Buccaneers' defense tops all comers in the NJCAA, rendering a meager 129.6 yards a game (national-best 39 rush, third-best 90.5 pass).
Said Jones, "We're just excited to have the chance to play for it all and against the No. 1 team in the nation in their home state.
"Just like two years ago when we played Kansas' champion (Butler) in their home state. It should be a great show between two great teams."
Hatten echoed Jones' sentiments, adding, "it's just like any other game.
"We can't give up the big play and you we turn the ball over. What we need to do is created turnovers and we've very good at that all season long.
"I really like our chances going in. We may not be quite as explosive as we have been in the last two or three years, but we've got 11 games under out belts now and we're a different team since we kicked off the season Aug. 31.
"Come Saturday, we'll just have to tie it on and see what happens."
Pearl River led the MACJC with a plus-17 in turnover margin.
A 1 p.m. kickoff is set for the Pilgrim's Pride Bowl Classic.
Watch, Listen To The Wildcats
The Pilgrim's Pride Bowl will be nationally broadcast over Fox Sports Southwest and Fox Sports South, while all Pearl River games are broadcast live on WMXI-FM (98.1) in Hattiesburg, WFFF-FM (96.7) in Columbia, WBOX-FM (92.9) and WBOX-AM (920) in Bogalusa, La.; and WRJW-AM (1320) in Picayune. Long-time play-by-play announcer Jason Baker and color commentator Clay Sweet will handle the broadcast. Airtime for Saturday's state championship broadcast is 6:30 p.m. You may also listen to the Wildcats over the internet by logging on to www.prcc.edu. Click on the icon at the bottom left of the screen, and follow the instructions.