For the first time in decades, the Valley of the Sun Bowl featured two Arizona junior-college football teams, so the state was guaranteed a win in that contest held at Glendale Community College. The host took home the trophy this year with a 41-35 victory over Mesa Community College.
Arizona Western College, the perennial junior-college power in Yuma, also picked up a bowl win this year, but you have to go back to 1972 to find the last time the No. 12-ranked Matadors enjoyed a post-season football win. A 42-37 victory over No. 6 Nassau Community College in the El Toro Bowl on Saturday ended the 40-year drought.
Just a few fans shy of 3,000 showed up for the El Toro Bowl, held at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Yuma, to watch the 2012 ACCAC Offensive Player of the Year perform against the team from Long Island, NY.
Tanner McEvoy, the Matadors’ redshirt freshman from New Jersey, didn’t disappoint the crowd, as fans basked in the sunny, 76-degree afternoon. He completed 18 of his 24 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns, and then added another 51 yards on nine carries.
AWC started out in a 7-0 hole after Nassau scored just minutes into the game, but rallied to take a 42-24 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Lions closed the gap to 11 points with an 11-play, 79-yard drive and then a McEvoy interception resulted in another score to move Nassau to within five at 42-37.
But that was their final rally, and the Matadors were able to hold on to run their record to 9-2 and give head coach Tom Minnick a bowl victory in just his fifth year directing the program. Since arriving from Joliet Junior College in Illinois in 2008, Minnick has taken the program to four conference titles and four bowl appearance. The 38 wins he has posted since going 5-5 his first year are the most wins in any four-year stretch in program history.
The fans this year also got the fireworks they were hoping for, as both teams combined for over 800 yards of total offense.
Meanwhile, over in Glendale a couple of local teams were also putting a lot of points on the board as Mesa Community College gave the No. 19-ranked Gauchos all they could handle.
Mesa threw two quarterbacks at GCC that combined for 303 yards passing. Blake Kemp, the freshman signal caller, threw for 154 yards on a 15-for-25 performance, and sophomore Jaymason Lee connected on 11 of his 25 attempts for 149 yards.
Glendale countered with the pass-catch tandem of sophomore quarterback Dain McFarland and freshman wide receiver Jesse Tate. McFarland threw a pair of touchdown passes to Tate on the way to completing 12 of 17 attempts for 213 yards and three touchdowns.
But the Gauchos also added a couple of 100-yard rushing performances by its backfield combo of Devontre Burke and Jon Brown. The sophomore, Burke, was the workhorse for the day, carrying the ball 32 times for 113 yards, and the freshman, Brown, ran the ball 14 times for 108 yards.
Not only were both teams in this bowl from within the state, they were also from within the same county, Maricopa. But it was not planned that way.
The No. 8-ranked Central Lakes College from Minnesota received the original invitation to meet three-time national champion Glendale CC, which lost in last year’s bowl game to Dean CC from Massachusetts. But Central Lakes had to decline the invite after it had an issue with player eligibility, and Mesa was asked to step in at the last minute to fill the void.
The match-up may not have been what organizers had planned, but the game was probably better-attended with two local teams. And the fans were treated to some good football that had the underdog Mesa Thunderbirds taking a 21-10 lead in the first half, prompting a run of 28 unanswered points by the Gauchos to pull out the win.
All the way around, it turned out to be a great afternoon for Arizona football – all the way across the state.
(Photo: El Toro Bowl)