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Baker shines in last game in Yuma
As the players on the Arizona Western football team celebrated on the field after their 42-37 win over Nassau Community College in the 2012 El Toro Bowl, sophomore running back J.C. Baker went to find the American flag.
Wearing matching Stars and Stripes shoes and bandana, Baker stormed over to stand in front of the home crowd. Waving the flag with a big smile on his face, the crowd erupted with applause for Baker.
It marked the final game the Yuma High grad would play in front of his local fans.
“I think it's going to hit me when I go home and watch the film, knowing I went out with a win on the last game of the season. Last time in front of the Yuma crowd,” said Baker, who graduated from Yuma High in 2009. “I just got so much love for this city and everyone who has supported me throughout my whole journey in football and life.”
It was quite the exit for the boisterous Baker, who finished the game with 16 carries for 79 yards and a long touchdown run as well as an 8-yard touchdown reception that capped the scoring for the Matadors.
“I love it. There's no better feeling than playing in front of people who truly love and support me and I just want everybody to know this game was for them,” said Baker, who wore the American flag apparel for the first time out of respect for those he knows in the service.
Nassau opened up the third quarter with a 7-play, 79-yard drive that cut the Matador lead to 28-24. On the eighth play of Arizona Western's ensuing drive, which was extended by a Lion penalty, Baker was pulled down for a loss of six yards on a toss to the left. But the 5-foot-8, 175-pound redshirt sophomore more than made up for it. He took a handoff on the next play and burst through the line then down the left sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.
“I knew I was gone when I hit the sideline,” said Baker, who said he's still undecided whether he'll pursue playing football next year. “Coaches got on me the play before so I just tried to shrug that off and once I got to the sidelines, I knew nobody was going catch me. It felt good.”
As the third quarter gave way to the fourth during a Matador drive, Arizona Western faced a third-and-5 on the Nassau 8-yard line. Matador quarterback Tanner McEvoy found Baker on the right sideline and the sophomore back scampered in for a touchdown to make it 42-24.
“He did pretty well today and broke 1,000 yards for his career,” Matador coach Tom Minnick said. While the exact number is unavailable, offensive coordinator Michael Orthmann said Baker finished with an estimated 1,030 yards for his career. “He's been a great asset to this team and we're very proud to have had him be a part of it. He's from Yuma, and he played well for us. He scored two touchdowns.”
Fittingly for the home-grown running back, Baker finished the game and his career with a final carry — a 3-yard run up the middle.
“I'm a little disappointed I didn't score,” Baker said with a laugh.
The gregarious Baker took photos with his fans on the field after the win while he held the American flag with his shoulder pads off — squeezing every drop he had left of his playing days in Yuma. When asked if this bowl win was the best football moment for him, Baker showed how important his days at Yuma High were.
“This one ranks right behind the Yuma-Kofa game my senior year,” Baker said of the 34-20 Criminal win in 2009. “There's no greater feeling than beating Kofa on their 50th year and my senior year after losing to them four years in a row. That was the highlight.”