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Lackawanna to play Mississippi Gulf Coast in NJCAA title game

Nov. 11, 2019 - CHARLOTTE, North Carolina - (Courtesy of the NJCAA) Following the announcement of the final ranking of the season, the NJCAA Football Championship matchup has been set as No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast and No. 2 Lackawanna will square off Dec. 5 at Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg, Kansas. The game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. View the Nov. 11 NJCAA poll.

The matchup will be the first between the two prominent programs that are heavily embedded in the NJCAA archives. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Bulldogs, led by head coach Jack Wright will enter the national championship game with an unblemished record of 11-0. Mark Duda's Lackawanna Falcons, currently riding a 22-game win streak that spans three seasons, will make its first-ever national championship appearance.

Mississippi Gulf Coast, who boasts its own impressive winning streak of 15 games dating to last season, will make the 686-mile trek to Pittsburg with its sights set on a fourth NJCAA Football championship, something only five NJCAA programs have accomplished. The Bulldogs earned national championships in 1971 and 1984 and were declared co-champions in 2007.

Not only will the Bulldogs' squad look to join elite company in the record books, but Wright has the unique opportunity to stand alone in NJCAA grandeur. Wright, who claimed a national championship as the head coach at Northwest Mississippi in 2015 will look to become the first NJCAA coach to win a national championship with two different programs.

"It's a great honor to be in that game, to be considered one of the top two teams in the country in 2019," Wright said. "It's something the whole community can be proud of. I think it's a great honor for our players who have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get to this point."

Mississippi Gulf Coast powered through the always-competitive MACJC and capped its state-run with a conference title over No. 4 Northwest Mississippi 22-19 Nov. 9. The state championship was the 16th in program history for the Bulldogs.

With an unbeaten Lackawanna team on the horizon, Wright and the Bulldogs understand the challenge that lays ahead. "I don't know much about Lackawanna, but I know they are undefeated," Wright said. "Anytime you do that, your team is made of the right stuff. You've got good leadership, good players and good character, high integrity. Anytime you play for a championship, just like Saturday proved, it's going to be a tough game."

Wright's previous championship experience will be pivotal come Dec. 5 as the second-year Bulldog coach faces off against the unchartered longevity of Duda. The Falcons have reached new heights during its 22-game win streak, a run that included the 2018 El Toro Bowl victory in Yuma, Arizona. While the recent success is unprecedented, Duda and his program recognize the task at hand.

"This is the final step for a program that has worked so hard for so long," stated Duda who has been with the Falcons since the program's inception in 1993. "Our program has consistently gotten better over the last 27 years. Slowly but surely, we've gained credibility."

The Falcons have not lost a contest since Oct. 28, 2017, and have posted back-to-back undefeated seasons. Through 10 games in 2019, Lackawanna's defense has swarmed its opposition, forcing at least two turnovers in each game. The Falcons lead the nation with 28 interceptions and eight defensive touchdowns in 2019.

In his 26th season as the head coach at Lackawanna, Duda boasts the most wins among all active NJCAA Football coaches with 187 triumphs, a number that ranks sixth all-time on a short list that includes Mississippi Gulf Coast's Hall of Fame coach George Sekul at 204 victories.

Throughout his tenure, over 400 student-athletes have received NCAA Division I scholarships while 20 alums have reached the NFL, including the likes of Bryant McKinnie, Kevin White and Mark Glowinski.

"Our student-athletes are thrilled for this opportunity," Duda said. "As an institution, as a community we are thrilled to play in this prestigious game. Mississippi has such a competitive conference. To come out of there undefeated, they must be a whale of a program."

The national championship game will be televised on the CBS Sports Network for the second consecutive year. East Mississippi topped Garden City 10-9 in the 2018 championship game, also hosted in Pittsburg.

"To be on national television, legitimacy has to be earned, and as an association, we have earned our legitimacy," Duda stated. "The time has come to realize that the student-athletes in the NJCAA are exceptional student-athletes. This is a great opportunity for the country to see the product on the field and a great opportunity for these student-athletes to receive the exposure they deserve. They are super human beings and this will be the thrill of a lifetime. It's certainly warranted."

NOTE: Mississippi Gulf Coast won the Junior College Championship in 1948, eight years before the first official NJCAA Championship game.