Matadors to face Nassau in El Toro Bowl
After just two years, the latest incarnation of the El Toro Bowl is a destination bowl game.
Although it won't be the national championship as it was last year, it will still feature a top-tier opponent for the Arizona Western College football team.
The school and the Caballeros de Yuma announced Tuesday that the No. 12 Matadors will face No. 6 Nassau Community College on Dec. 1 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
No. 1 Iowa Western and No. 2 Butler are squaring off in the Graphic Edge Bowl in Iowa for the national championship. AWC athletic director Jerry Smith said No. 3 ASA — Nassau's rival in the Northeast Football Conference — and No. 4 Snow will match up in the Carrier Dome Bowl. But instead of possibly facing No. 5 Navarro in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl, the Lions are coming to Yuma.
“We feel fortunate to reach out and have Nassau come,” Matador football coach Tom Minnick said. “I think it's because of the outstanding program we put on last year. Obviously the weather is a big factor, and we knew that when we started the bowl game. People are going to be wanting to go to Yuma instead of New York or northern Kansas to play in the snow belt. We do feel fortunate to have reached out and gotten the No. 6 team in the nation when other bowls all across the nation are having trouble getting people to come.”
Aside from the national championship, the NJCAA won't announce the other bowl games until today.
Both Nassau and AWC are coming off of losses to conference rivals — and coincidentally, the Carrier Dome Bowl participants. The Matadors (7-2) had a shot to claim at least a share of the Western States Football League title for a fourth straight year, but needed to beat Snow. They lost 40-26 to the Badgers on Saturday. Earlier in the day, the Lions (9-1) fell to ASA 30-29 on a field goal with six seconds left.
Minnick said he was glad Smith and the Caballeros were able to pull in such a highly ranked team.
“I'm a competitor. I don't want to play anybody below us or anybody that's not any good,” Minnick said. “I like playing Snow, I like playing Glendale, I like playing Eastern (Arizona). The other teams in the conference you kind of go through the motions because you know you should beat them. Yeah, you still get beat by them, but you want to play good football teams and see how good you are.”
This will be the fourth-straight bowl for the Matadors, who are 0-3 under Minnick in bowl games.
“It's a great opportunity to play someone ahead of us instead of someone behind us,” Minnick said. “If we win, we'll be in the top 10, which will make four consecutive years. That's saying something. But we still have to take care of business.”
The two teams have met twice before, with the home team holding serve in a bowl game. The Matadors won the 1970 El Toro Bowl 36-18 at Kofa, while in 1998 the Lions won the Empire State Bowl 20-6 against the Matadors.
Tickets for the game are available at the Caballeros de Yuma office, the AWC athletic office or at eltorobowl.com.
“There's not going to be a bad seat in the house,” el presidente of the Caballeros Jeff Kammann said. “You can pick your seat where you want to be, and anytime you want to leave during the game, your seat is going to be saved this year. It's going to be a lot better set up this year.”
Smith said he was awakened by a 6 a.m. phone call Sunday — barely eight hours after the Matadors lost to the Badgers. It was Lions coach Curtis Gilliam expressing his interest in the game. Smith said despite being groggy, he started his sales pitch.
“He said we already looked at it, we already know all that stuff, we want to come,” Smith said. “He said, ‘This is where we want to come. We want to come to some warm climate, and we want to be partners with you in the El Toro Bowl.'”
Smith said he sent out information on the bowl to every top 20 team except last year's opponent, East Mississippi. That is what he said helped Gilliam make his decision.
“We certainly wanted to play highest-ranked team we could get,” Smith said. “I think it was the best opportunity to get a highly ranked opponent in here, and our best chance to move up into the rankings when we beat them on December the 1st.”