BILOXI - Fifth-ranked East Mississippi Community College held off a late rally to beat Arizona Western College 27-24 on Sunday to win the second annual Mississippi Bowl at Biloxi Stadium.

It was an historic season fo the Lions, making their first bowl appearance since 1963. They finished with 11 victories against one defeat.

East Mississippi beat Gulf Coast 75-71 last month to win its first Mississippi community college state title in school history. The Lions improved to 19-3 under coach Buddy Stephens, a former Pearl River assistant.

The unprecedented season also saw the Lions post a perfect 6-0 mark in the North Division as East Mississippi won the division for the second year in a row,.

''What a year. This is a special group of young men," Stephens said. "I am so proud of them."

After jumping out to a 20-7 lead in the first quarter, the Lions only scored seven points in the final 45 minutes. The Matadors, who finished 9-2, rallied to take their only lead of the game at 24-20 on the opening drive of the second half.

The drive, one that covered 68 yards, ended on a 36-yard scoring run by Reggie Bullock with 12:51 left in the third. Bullock, the nation's leading rusher at 162 yards per game, finished with 116 yards on 29 carries in this game.

Following the score, the Matadors forced East Mississippi to punt on its initial drive of the second half and looked primed to stretch the lead after moving from their 30 to the Lions eight-yard line.

But a 25-yard field goal attempt by Othello Kossigbo was wide left.

East Mississippi responded with an 80-yard scoring drive that was capped by Randall Mackey's 5-yard scoring pass to Lance Lewis. It was Mackey's 32nd TD pass of the year, and for Lewis, his 16th scoring catch.

Arizona Western, however, marched 50 yards before Kossigbo missed a 31-yard field goal. This time it went wide right.

From that point, the Lions defense stiffened and force a pair of interceptions of Matador quarterback Brandon Gorsuch, one by Izauea Lanier and the final pick by T.J. Ballou at midfield with 49 seconds left.'

The first half saw East Mississippi take a 20-7 lead on a 90-yard kickoff return by Derrick Steele and two touchdown passes from Mackey, who finished the game with 275 all-purpose yards.

Mackey's other scoring pass, a 27-yard strike to Cedrick Blanks, gave the Lions a 20-7 lead.

Al Jones/The Sun Herald (MCT)

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