Mississippi Bowl

Run, run, run and run some more.

That’s the plan of attack for the No. 7 Eastern Arizona College Gila Monsters (9-2) as they prepare to face the No. 5 Jones College Bobcats (9-2) in Mississippi Bowl XI Sunday at 2 p.m. at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The contest will air on www.jcjc.tv and the Jones College Facebook Live page with Mark Easley and Luke Johnson on the call.

“They are a triple-option football team,” said Jones head coach Steve Buckley. “They will run the option from every formation imaginable.”

As a team, Eastern Arizona rushes for 268.6 yards per game, which is second in the NJCAA, and passes for only 31 yards per game for a total of 299.6 yards per game. 

School was out at Jones for Thanksgiving week. The Bobcats took the entire week off and reported back to campus on Sunday.

Buckley said the team has been in good spirits this week in preparation for the bowl game.

“We had a great week off,” he said. “It was good to get away from them and probably good for them to get away from us. But Thanksgiving is over and we’ve had two really good days of practice. The kids are excited about playing in a bowl game.”

In Jones’ last game, the Bobcats dropped a heartbreaking 19-14 contest to No. 1 East Mississippi in the MACJC championship game.

Buckley said the bowl game provides an opportunity for Jones to end the season on a high note.

“The two things we have talked with the team about and the reasons we want to play in this game are, number one, we did not want the season to end in the state championship game the way it did,” he said. “That’s over with. And this is a chance for us to get to 10 wins and that is very important. In NCAA Division I football as of right now, there are 18 teams with 10 wins out of 128. In junior college, there are only three teams with 10 wins.

“To put ourselves in the top 10 or 15 percent of the country by getting to 10 wins is very important to our program. I don’t know why 10 wins is the magic number, but it’s kind of one of those underlying things that when you get to 10 wins, you are pretty darn good. I would like to see this program get to 10 wins. The opportunity to do that is very important to us.”

Buckley said the bowl game is a reward for the players.

“This bowl game is for the kids and we want to make it fun for them,” he said. “It is hard to get excited about a game where you are not playing for the whole thing, but the kids have taken a great approach to this game. They are excited about playing in another ballgame.

“To be able to go down on Friday for the banquet, have a fun day on Saturday and get ready to play on Sunday will be a very rewarding weekend for the kids.”

The Gila Monsters have only completed 16 passes in 52 attempts for 341 yards and three touchdowns — and that’s for the entire season. Leading passer Ishois Times is 6-of-24 for 106 yards, one touchdown and one interception on the season. Times is a 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore from Sanford, N.C.

On the other hand, running back Wilber Cooper tops the Gila Monsters on the ground with 827 yards and 11 touchdowns. Cooper is a 5-foot-9, 225-pound sophomore from Auburndale, Fla. Running back Xavian Hampton has 395 yards rushing and six scores and Times has carried for 376 yards and three touchdowns. Hampton is a 5-foot-10, 240-pound sophomore from Hitchcock, Texas.

The Bobcats are a balanced team, rushing for 184.1 yards, passing for 193.5 yards and posting 377.6 yards per game. Jones scores 33.9 points per game.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett (Blackshear, Ga.) has completed 137 of 240 passes for 1,707 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

Running back Kalyn Grandberry (Memphis) has rushed for 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns. He is fifth in the nation in rushing. Running back Donte Edwards (Mobile, Ala.) has 525 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.

The Bobcat offensive line is anchored by All-Region 23 and All-MACJC first-team guard Christian Barnes (Ocean Springs) and All-MACJC second-team guard Malcolm Miller (Warren Central).

In addition to getting ready for the Mississippi Bowl this week, Buckley and his coaches have been busy recruiting and meeting with senior college coaches.

The early NCAA football signing period starts on Dec. 19 and as many as 20 Bobcats could be headed to the next level.

“This is probably the craziest week of my coaching career,” Buckley said. “We are trying to recruit for our college next year, we are trying to help our kids who are ready to graduate in December find homes for next year and we are trying to get ready for a bowl game. So, it’s a lot of balls to juggle right now.

“But that’s what we do. We are wearing three different hats right now and it’s hard, but it’s OK. We have a good staff and everybody is working together.”

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