By Edward Carifio
Special to the Dispatch
YUMA, Ariz. — Everything was in place for Arizona Western to claim its first national championship since 1972.
But despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding the El Toro Bowl Presented by Time Warner Cable, the Matadors started sluggish in their own bowl and had their comeback fall a touchdown short.
The No. 2 East Mississippi CC Lions scored the first 27 points as they rolled to a 55-47 win over the No. 1 Matadors on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
It was the first title for both the Lions and EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens, who was an assistant with 2004 national champion Pearl River Community College.
“It’s like no other feeling when you’re able to put on the ring or put on the shirt or have that No. 1 beside your name,” Stephens said. “I’m just blessed to have the assistant coaches I have.”
The Lions win kept AWC coach Tom Minnick from winning his first title as a head coach. Minnick said the undisciplined play of the Matadors — who were penalized 16 times for 119 yards in the game — proved to be their undoing in the quest for a title.
“I wasn’t really worried yet (down 27-0). I really wasn’t,” Minnick said. “They didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves. It happened the whole season with penalties and being undisciplined and jumping offsides and doing stupid things. If we just played football and didn’t worry about the other stuff, we would have been fine. But we worried too much about the other stuff. The second half, we played football. When we play football we’re fine. When we quit screwing around and they want to fight and do that crap, it hurts us.”
The festivities started two and a half hours before kickoff, with a high school skills competition, marching band performance, and military displays. The game ball was brought on to the field by a squad from YPG that jumped out of an airplane.
But all that wasn’t enough to fire up the Matadors, who spotted the Lions four touchdowns before getting their first score.
The Matadors closed to within 55-47 in the fourth quarter of the high-scoring affair when Cameron Coffman threw his fourth touchdown pass, connecting with Damien Williams. It came eight minutes after the Matadors cut the lead to 55-40 on another Coffman pass to Williams, the first score of the fourth quarter.
But Williams, the leading rusher in the nation, struggled early – six of his first 11 rushers were for no gain or less.
On the flip side, EMCC quarterback Bo Wallace torched the AWC defense for 453 yards and seven touchdowns. He needed four touchdowns to set the NJCAA single season scoring mark and ended up shattering it.
“They’re a resilient group,” EMCC quarterback Bo Wallace said. “They fought back, they didn’t go in the locker room and say this game’s over. So, hats off to them for making it a really good game.”
Defensive end Denico Autry, likely to be playing at an NCAA Division I program next year, was named defensive MVP for the Lions.
“It feels great man,” Autry said. “Just knowing we won nationals feels good.”
Yuma Sun Sports Editor Edward Carifio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-539-6882.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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