GULFPORT, Miss. – Let the festivities and fun begin! The second-ranked Arizona Western College football team landed in Gulfport, Miss. today for the NJCAA Football Championship Game at the tenth Mississippi Bowl on Sunday. The Mats take on first-ranked East Mississippi on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Yuma time, and the game will be broadcast on AM 1320 KAWC (kawc.org).
“If you had asked me if we were going to be in it [the NJCAA National Championship] this year, I would have said no,” said Arizona Western College head coach Tom Minnick at the opening press conference. “Each year in junior college, you recruit different kids, and they jell differently.
The Mats (9-0 overall) had several close calls early in the season. In their season opener, the Mats won 21-14 at Eastern Arizona after trailing at halftime. In their second game, the Mats battled Pima before a late defensive score sealed a 34-17 win on the road. AWC won at Snow College 29-27 on a field goal with less than 15 seconds to play.
East Mississippi (10-1 overall) head coach Buddy Stephens agreed with Minnick that teams come together different every single season.
“This team is weird,” said Stephens. “I don’t know what makes them go sometimes…It’s been a unique [team], and its had its own idiosyncrasy, and every team does.”
The two programs met in 2011 for the NJCAA Football Championship at the El Toro Bowl in Yuma, and the Mats also took on East Mississippi in 2009 at the Mississippi Bowl. Both teams feature a lot of talent on each side of the ball.
“In that  game, what Tom, 14 or 15 NFL players on the field,” said Stephens. “You’re gonna see that on Sunday.”
“We talk about that game all the time, 2011, there were so many NFL kids on both rosters, it was unbelievable,” said Minnick. “You just show up, and wow, look at these kids.”
The Mats won the Western States Football League for a second straight season and sixth time total under Minnick. Running back Greg Bell III leads a powerful Matador ground game with 1094 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Mats average 275.7 rushing yards per game (sixth in the NJCAA) and grind out 6.6 yards per carry. Bell was named the WSFL Offensive Player of the Year and was one of 16 players named to an All-Conference or All-Region team.
AWC’s defense (seventh in points per game allowed, 17.0) will have to deal with one of the most powerful offenses in the country. East Mississippi averages 49.9 points per game (second best in the NJCAA) and won 67-66 in double overtime to win the MACJC title. The Lions are led by quarterback Lindsey Scott, Jr. Scott has thrown for 3110 yards and 27 touchdowns while running for 689 yards and six scores. Running back Tyrell Price has 23 touchdowns and 946 yards as well.
The official NJCAA broadcast will be on NJCAA TV, a subscription-based online service. For $4.99, fans can watch online at www.njcaatv.com as well as through NJCAA TV apps or channels on Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku. There is also an NJCAA TV mobile app for iPhone and Android devices.
The Matador broadcast will be on AM 1320 KAWC and kawc.org (click the dropdown arrow at the top of the screen and select KAWC music for the game broadcast). Sam Hovan and Patrick Cunningham have the call. The pregame show goes live at 12:50 p.m. Yuma time.
Arizona Western College is one of the top community colleges in Arizona. The college boasts partnerships with all three state universities that include face-to-face classes in Yuma. AWC leads the state in enrollment growth over the past 10 years and handed out more than 2,300 certificates and degrees in 2016-17.