East Mississippi vs. Arizona Western

SCOOBA, Miss. - Paired together from opposite sides of the country, Sunday's Mississippi Bowl match up in Biloxi figures to be a formidable meeting between two of the nation's rising junior college football programs.

The No. 5 East Mississippi Community College Lions (10-1) will meet the sixth-ranked Matadors of Arizona Western College (9-1) Sunday afternoon in the 2009 Mississippi Bowl.

Kickoff for the Mississippi Gulf Coast's second annual junior college bowl event is set for 2 p.m. at Biloxi Indian Stadium. Tickets are $8 in advance of the game and $10 on game day, and can be purchased throughout the week by calling 601-928-6344 or logging onto www.mississippibowl.com.

With South Mississippi automobile/RV dealers Barry Harper and Dub Herring serving as co-title sponsors for this weekend's bowl game activities in Biloxi, the three-day event will begin with a Friday night dinner honoring both bowl team participants. In addition to practicing at Biloxi Indian Stadium on Saturday, the EMCC and Arizona Western football teams are also scheduled to visit the Coastal Boys & Girls Club.

Despite the fact that Sunday's Mississippi Bowl 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 in 2009 with similar credentials. The similarities begin with a pair of highly regarded second-year head coaches.

East Mississippi's Buddy Stephens, this year's 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 over two-time defending state champions Mississippi Gulf Coast back on Nov. 7.

Fellow second-year head coach Tom Minnick of Arizona Western has led the Matadors to a collective mark of 14-6 in his two seasons at the Yuma-based school following a successful two-year head coaching stint at Joliet (Ill.) Junior College. In guiding the 9-1 AWC club to this year's Western States Football League regular-season championship - the school's first league title since 1981 - Minnick was named the 2009 WSFL and Region 1 Coach of the Year.

Along with pitting a pair of revitalized football programs sporting impressive one-loss marks on the year, 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 EMCC and Arizona Western feature their share of individual talent on the field as well. The Lions had a total of 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 2009 WSFL and Region 1 Offensive Player of the Year Reggie Bullock of AWC. 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.

Sunday's EMCC-AWC Mississippi Bowl 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.

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