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Broncos vying for spot in championship game

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David Rocha Photo
In this October file photo, New Mexico Military Institute players celebrate in the end zone after a touchdown during the team’s win over Tyler Junior College. The Broncos will face third-seeded Northwest Mississippi Community College in postseason semifinal action at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Wool Bowl.

It comes down to four schools vying for a chance to play in the NJCAA Division I football championship.

In the inaugural NJCAA national championship playoff system, the New Mexico Military Institute Broncos host the third-seeded Northwest Mississippi Community College Rangers.

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5 at the Wool Bowl in Roswell.

Tickets, according to a press release from NMMI, can be purchased at www.njcaa.org/tickets. The game will be livestreamed through www.njcaa.org/network for a fee.

The No. 2-ranked Broncos finished the regular season 8-1 before winning two straight games to capture the Southwest Junior College Football Conference title, their first in program history since joining the SWJCFC in 2016.

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Finishing second in the nation in the weekly poll was the highest the Broncos have been featured since achieving the No. 6 ranking in 2016.

NMMI’s last shot at a national title came in 1958 when it finished undefeated.

It was the best finish for the Broncos since intercollegiate football began at the Institute in 1907.

Fast forward to the fall of 2021.

The Broncos are six months removed from playing Iowa Central in the Graphic Edge Bowl back on May 29 during the condensed spring season where NMMI finished 5-4 overall.

NMMI has been on a mission this season ever since it came up short in the bowl game.

Statistically, the Broncos have been among the best in NJCAA Division I this season, ranking first in scoring (446), sixth in points per game (40.5), fifth in total offense (4,597), first in rushing yards (3,022), first in rushing yards per game (274.7), second in rushing touchdowns (33), fourth in interception returns (16 for 272 yards) and sixth in defensive touchdowns (4).

Sophomore running back Anthony Grant has helped spearhead the Bronco rushing attack. Grant ranks in the top five in four different categories.

Grant’s 1,140 rushing yards are second-best in the nation.

The Broncos are under the leadership of Kurt Taufa’asau, who is in his first year as head coach. Taufa’asau has been on the Bronco coaching staff since 2016. He was a member of the 2009 NMMI squad that finished 7-4 with an appearance at the Salt City Bowl.

Other NMMI players to watch: sophomore quarterback Diego Pavia (100 for 184 passing for 1,429 yards and 18 touchdowns/97 carries for 608 yards and six scores) … sophomore wide receiver Malik Phillips (24 receptions for 409 yards and seven touchdowns) … sophomore wide receiver Jaylin Smith (431 yards on 24 catches with five scores) … freshman kicker William Testa (50 of 51 extra points made) … sophomore offensive lineman Tyrone Webber … sophomore defensive back Tre O’Guinn (63 total tackles) … sophomore defensive back Joseph Norwood (8 interceptions).

This marks the first meeting between both schools. NMMI has two quality wins over 15th-ranked Tyler Junior College along with a win over former No. 2 Kilgore College and the former No. 4-ranked Trinity Valley.

Northwest Mississippi Community College: Competing in the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC), Northwest finished 9-2 overall and 5-2 in league play. Northwest captured the MACCC title with a 56-21 win over Hinds, the seventh-ranked team in the nation.

Just like NMMI, the Rangers have an impressive resume with victories over No. 7 East Mississippi, No. 9 Jones College and No. 13 Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Rangers last captured the NJCAA national title in 2015.

Last school year, Northwest played during the fall unlike most teams that had to endure a spring season. It finished 6-0 and was recognized as the National Community College Football champions.

Head coach Benjy Parker is currently in his sixth year at the helm, sporting a record of 39-11 with the Rangers.

Players to watch: Redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Hiers has the best completion percentage in the nation (71.4). Hiers has completed 190 of 266 passes for 2,696 yards with 19 touchdowns.

One of Hiers’ top targets has been freshman wide receiver D.T. Sheffield, who is ranked in the top three in four different categories. Sheffield’s reeled in 51 receptions for 981 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Ranking third in the nation with 1,130 rushing yards is sophomore running back Jaquerrious Williams.

Williams has 15 touchdowns, which is second-best in the nation, along with 176 rushes while he averages 102.7 yards a game.

On defense, freshman linebacker Sam Brumfield has a team-high 83 total tackles and five sacks. Sophomore defensive back Jarvis Townsend leads the secondary with five interceptions for 105 yards.

NJCAA semifinals: On the other side of the playoff bracket, No. 1-ranked Iowa Western will try to hang on to its 9-0 record as it hosts fourth-seeded Snow College, which brings in a 7-1 record … Both teams met previously in the season as Snow lost 17-14 to the Reivers on Oct. 9.

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