Photo/James Pugh

By Shawn Wansley

Jones Sports Information Director

ELLISVILLE – For the first time since 2004, the 5th-ranked Jones College Bobcats are going bowling.

Jones accepted an invitation Tuesday to face the No. 7 Eastern Arizona College Gila Monsters in Mississippi Bowl XI, which will be held at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2 at A.L. May Stadium at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston.

Jones came up just short in last week’s MACJC championship game, dropping a 19-14 decision to No. 1 East Mississippi.

Third-year Jones’ head coach Steve Buckley said it’s good for the team to be able to play another game.

“No question, last Saturday was a very disappointing loss,” he said. “We did not want it to end that way, but now we have an opportunity to play another game and our kids are excited about it. Eastern Arizona is a very explosive team and this will be a chance for us to represent our state in a bowl game.”

Both teams will enter the game with 9-2 records.

Eastern Arizona is a member of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference and is located in Thatcher, Arizona.

Under Buckley, the Bobcats have progressed at a steady pace.

Jones was 6-3 in his first season and 8-2 with an MACJC South Division championship in 2017. The Bobcats won its second consecutive division title this year and played in a state championship game for the first time in five years.

Buckley, who is 23-7 at Jones, said it’s a tribute to each player that has come through the program during his tenure for this team to be participating in postseason play.

“This process did not start this year,” Buckley said. “It started two and a half, three years ago. The kids that first year who have gone on and are playing at other places now and this sophomore class now are the ones who have created the building blocks for what we are trying to do.

“I remember saying in the interview process that I did not want it to be a one-hit wonder. I want to build a program here. (Jones College President) Dr. (Jesse) Smith and the administration has done a great job supporting that process of the program that we want to develop so that we can continually be good. That’s what we are striving to do and I think this is a step in the right direction.”

The Bobcats will be going for its first 10-win since 2001 when the team finished 10-1 and won the MACJC championship. Jones has six 10-win seasons in its history – 1977 (10-2), 1978 (10-2), 1983 (11-2), 1984 (11-2), 1998 (12-0) and 2001 (10-1).

Buckley said an opportunity to reward the sophomores and get a 10thvictory is important for the program.

“There are two huge factors on why we wanted to play in a bowl game,” he said. “Number one, we want to end this thing the right way with this class that we really love. And number two, to get to 10 wins is very, very important. I don’t know what the magic number is, but 10 sounds better than nine.

“From where these kids have come with the program – where it started and where we are now – is really good. After you get over last Saturday and you look back and reflect on everything, you can see we’ve made a lot of progress here. Getting to 10 wins would be a huge accomplishment.”

The Bobcats will head to the bowl game festivities after class on Friday, Nov. 30. The bowl banquet will be that evening on the MGCCC campus.

The team will practice at Biloxi High School Stadium at 10 a.m. on Dec. 1 and visit the Dream Program in Ocean Springs that afternoon.

Buckley said with the game being so close to campus, the Bobcats will not lose any time in the classroom.

“It won’t interrupt our class schedule,” he said. “We’ve got a number of kids getting ready to graduate in a few weeks, so we will keep them right in the flow of going to class. We won’t miss any class time by playing in a bowl game, so that’s a positive.”

This will be the 11thbowl game appearance for Jones and Buckley said the Bobcats will be prepared for the Gila Monsters.

“We are going to prepare for this game like we have done the last 11 games and I know our kids will get ready to play,” he said.