AZ’s three ranked JUCO football teams stumble in bowls

Arizona has some of the best junior college football programs in the country.  But this year’s bowl games took some of the lustre off the top three.

Arizona Western went into the national championship game ranked No. 1 in the country, but couldn’t pull out a come-back win and lost to No. 2 East Mississippi, 55-47.  Glendale CC fell to Dean College of Massachusetts, 26-25, in the Valley of the Sun Bowl.  And Eastern Arizona was embarrassed in the Top of the Mountains Bowl, losing to Utah’s Snow College 36-9.

The nine points scored by the Gila Monsters was the second-lowest in the eight years the Utah bowl has been played.  And Eastern Arizona is a team that won five games this season by point spreads of 35 or more points.  Go figure.

Eastern, which finished in third place in the Western States Football League, had even beaten Snow earlier in the season, winning 41-14 back in October.  But they were defeated in the bowl game by a freshman who ran for 141 yards and defensive play that gave up 229 yards on the ground to Snow.

And the eight times they fumbled the ball, losing three of them, didn’t help.

But it was a different story for Glendale Community College, which was ranked No. 16 entering the game against Dean.  The Gauchos brought their ‘A’ game to the bowl, which was held at Matt O. Hanhila Stadium in Glendale, but couldn’t hold on to a sizeable lead they had built up in the first half.

Glendale took a 22-6 halftime lead, as quarterback Spencer Stone embarked on a 310-yard passing performance.  But his three interceptions, combined with a fumbled punt, allowed Dean to pull back into the game.

A 34-yard field goal attempt with 54 seconds left in the game went wide of the uprights, leaving the Gauchos a point short of the bowl victory.

For Arizona Western, it was just the opposite.  The first half of its bowl game with East Mississippi CC put them in a 34-13 hole by intermission.  The Lions had jumped out to a 27-0 lead as Western racked up 12 first-half penalties.

Western didn’t get on the board until there were just over five minutes left in the half, when Damien Williams broke free for a 53-yard TD run.

The El Toro Bowl in Yuma, which provides the stage for the JUCO national championship game, matched up two undefeated teams this year.  After it was over, Western finished with a 11-1 record; the 11 wins are the most by an AWC football team in program history.

But it’s also a third frustrating year of losing close bowl games.  The Matadors lost last year’s Heart of Texas Bowl by four points and the Mississippi Bowl the year before by three points.

This game pitted two teams with high-powered offenses.  Western boasts the nation’s top rushing offense and Mississippi has scored 50 points or more six times during the regular season.

Western also brought to the party a defense that has allowed just 11 points a game.

After getting off to a rough first-half start, Western found its offense again and both teams went mano-a-mano in the third quarter.  Each team put three more scores on the board in a combined 42-point quarter.  The Matadors scored two of theirs in a span of 70 seconds.

But, ultimately, the Matadors had to settle for another runner-up postseason finish  – despite Cameron Coffman‘s performance at quarterback, completing 23-of-39 passes for almost 300 yards, and Williams’ four touchdowns and a combined 229 yards of offense.

In the final standings, Eastern had dropped from No. 17 to No. 19 after its bowl loss, and Western slipped down to No. 3.  But Glendale actually moved up two spots and finished the year at No. 16.

All in all, not a bad representation for the state of Arizona.

(Photo: EMCC Athletics)