By Angel Verdejo
The Cove Herald
The committee members of the CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl have always made sure the football game had a military flavor to it.
With neighboring Fort Hood just miles away from the Bulldawg Stadium, the bowl game's location, and Copperas Cove's numerous connections to the military, it only makes sense.
So when New Mexico Military Institute was available, the committee jumped at the chance. The twelfth-ranked Broncos (9-2) finished second in the Western States Football League.
They'll meet Navarro College, last season's national champion, in the HOT Bowl's 11th edition on Saturday. The Bulldogs (9-2) are ranked sixth in the country after winning the Southwest Football JC Conference for the third time since 2007.
"Everybody will be able to relate to it," said Copperas Cove athletic director Jack Welch, also the bowl game's director. "You've got Navarro, which is the Texas school, and then you have the military tie with New Mexico Military Institute."
The HOT Bowl is one of nine junior college playoff games and there are eight bowls (Graphic Edge Bowl hosts two games). That includes the return of the El Toro Bowl, which is hosting the national championship game in its first year back since 1972.
Top-ranked Arizona Western College will face No. 2 East Mississippi Community College on Dec. 3. Arizona Western played in the HOT Bowl last season, falling to Blinn College 31-27.
There was another team in the mix for the HOT Bowl - Grand Rapids Community College, which finished the season undefeated (10-0) and ranked tied for third in the country.
But for various reasons, including geography, travel party and matchup, NMMI was selected over Michigan-based Grand Rapids. Both schools will bring their marching bands, which the game hasn't seen in a few years.
"When we got to looking, there were several good schools," Welch said. "Both of them are ranked very high, but Grand Rapids is so far away that we thought it would be a better fit for New Mexico Military and Navarro.
"So we took New Mexico Military, especially with Killeen Daily Herald/Fort Hood Appreciation Day. It all goes hand in hand."
As with every year, both teams feature talent that will move on to major colleges next season.
Navarro's to recruit is offensive tackle Tavon Rooks, who has offers from eight schools across the country.
NMMI's top recruit is defensive tackle Deylan Buntyn, who is commited to North Carolina State.
At the game, all military personnel with an ID card will pay no admission fee in honor of the military and be recognized during halftime. The first 500 military families will receive a $10 voucher for food at the concession stand.
Advance tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under, and will be on sale at Copperas Cove school athletic annex.
Tickets at the game will be $8 for adults and $5 for children 12 and younger. Ticket information is available at (254) 547-4111.
Other features this season include a Punt, Pass and Kick competition at halftime. Before the game, the First Calvary Flag Corp will present the colors on horseback, with dignitaries also on hand to sing the national anthem and the opening coin toss.