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AWC falls to Blinn in Heart of Texas Bowl
COPPERAS COVE , Texas — Trailing the entire game, Arizona Western had one last fourth-down chance to keep its hopes alive in the Heart of Texas Bowl Saturday against Blinn at Bulldawg Stadium.
Quarterback Boomer Green dropped back to pass in an attempt to hit receiver Ge’shun Harris on a quick slant, a play that had worked on fourth-and-short on the team’s previous possession.
This time, cornerback Kip Bailey stepped in front of the play, broke up the pass, and clinched the 31-27 win for the Buccaneers.
It was just one more play that didn’t go the Matadors’ way in a game filled with them.
"It’s hard, but the kids fought back and did a good job," said Minnick, whose team lost the Mississippi Bowl last year by three points. "It’s a tough loss; we had to fight through some adversity. … The kids fought back though and played hard."
The No. 4 Matadors entered the contest on an eight-game winning streak, but never led in the game against the defending national champions, who entered the game ranked 16th. Blinn (8-3) scored the first 17 points of the game before AWC cut the lead to 17-14 at the half.
The win ends the season on a positive note for Blinn and sophomore quarterback Justin Tuggle. The Boston College transfer threw for 141 yards, ran for 77 and accounted for three of the Bucs’ four touchdowns to earn MVP honors.
"We felt like we lost a couple games we shouldn’t have lost," Tuggle said. "We were hoping to get back to the national championship this year but fell a little short. But we beat a good team and are real excited about this."
The one touchdown Tuggle didn’t score was in the fourth quarter, when Marion Grice went left for a 1-yard run, putting the Bucs ahead 31-21 with 11:23 left in the game. Grice ran for 100 yards in the win.
That drive was prolonged when the Matador defensive end Chad Lopati was called for a rouging the punter on a fourth-and-13. Eight plays later, Grice scored.
"We knew we had to come back and drive the ball down the field," Tuggle said. "We had to eat up some clock and put some points on the board. That’s the name of the game and we did that real well."
The Matadors scored on their next possession when Reggie Bullock, who ran for 101 yards, found Jamal Gray on a halfback pass from 23 yards out. The extra point attempt by Wesley Feer was blocked, leaving the Matadors trailing by four.
On the ensuing kickoff, Blinn returner Isaiah Battle lost control of the football, with AWC’s Nathan Mayfield coming out of the scrum with the ball. But the refs ruled Battle was down and Blinn regained possession.
Minnick said he felt it was a fumble, just as he felt that Lopati had tipped the ball on the roughing the punter call. He added that the Battle fumble reminded him of a call earlier in the game when AWC kick returner Brock Ringo lost control of the ball as he hit the ground in the second quarter. Referees ruled it a fumble and Blinn scored on the extra possession to take a 17-0 lead.
"I think (Lopati) tipped the ball, but we’ll have to watch it on the film," Minnick said. "I’m sure the film will say a lot of stuff when you watch it. ... We’ll see if that was a fumble, and that was a fumble Brock had, and see if his knee was down. But like I said if they’re close calls they’re going to go to the home team anyway."
Blinn opened the game with a drive down the Matador 17, but came away empty when Chase Hover’s field goal attempt sailed wide left. AWC couldn’t score on its first possession either, then Blinn took control.
Philander Moore returned the punt 61 yards to set the Buccaneers up with a 22-yard field. Three plays later, Tuggle found Xavier Maxwell for a 7-0 lead.
Blinn coach Brad Franchione called for an onside kick, and kicker Tyler Vincent recovered the short kick over the middle. But the Bucs couldn’t score, and AWC received good field position after a blocked punt by Gussie Jones.
On the fourth play of the drive, Green threw to Josh Ford in the endzone. The receiver leaped and got both hands on the ball, but ended up tipping it to Anthony Riley.
The Buccaneers added a Hover field goal to make the score 10-0, then the onside kick and score pushed the lead to 17-0 with 14:12 left in the second quarter.
At that point, the Matadors had run just 11 plays compared to 31 for Blinn.
"We gave them an extra two or three possessions," Minnick said. "We don’t have the ball, we can’t score. That was big in the game that we couldn’t get our offense into the game and score. That really hurt.
But the Matadors rolled off a nine minute scoring drive, converting three third downs and a fourth down. Green found Gray for 14-yard pass, the first of Gray’s two touchdown catches.
After holding Blinn to a four-and-out, AWC put together another scoring drive in the final minutes of the first half, one capped when Bullock, in at quarterback, plunged in from 1-yard out.
AWC received the ball at the start of the second half, but went three-and-out. On Blinn’s next drive, Tuggle found daylight on an option and ran 33 yards for a score and a 24-14 lead.
The Matadors answered three plays into its next drive when a screen pass to Damien Williams turned into a 52-yard scoring play, cutting the lead to three. On the next drive, Drayquan Crawford picked Tuggle in the endzone, but AWC went three-and-out.
Blinn followed with its time-consuming drive aided by the roughing call and held on for the win. The Bucs also handed the Matadors their second straight bowl loss and prevent AWC’s first bowl win since 1981.
"It’s always good to go out with a win," Tuggle said. "To go out with a win in the HOT bowl against a good team; it feels good. I’m proud of everyone on the team and glad the sophomores can go out like this."