No. 1 EMCC defeats No. 2 Iowa Western 34-17 in Mississippi Bowl VII to claim third NJCAA title in four years

BILOXI -- Time after time, East Mississippi Community College presented itself with golden opportunities here Sunday in Mississippi Bowl VII. Eventually, the Lions cashed in on more than enough of them.

No. 1-ranked EMCC rolled up more than 500 yards of total offense and forced No. 2 Iowa Western into five turnovers, defeating the Reivers 34-17 in the NJCAA Football Championship Game at Biloxi High School's Indian Stadium.

The Lions, who captured their second straight national title and third in the last four years, outgained Iowa Western 515-191 in total offense but were unable to put the Reivers away until the fourth quarter - in large part to two turnovers of their own and 15 penalties.

"We certainly didn't play our best ball game or our most complete ball game," EMCC head football coach Buddy Stephens said. "We shot ourselves in the foot and kept making mistakes, and, hey: You've got to give credit where credit is due. Iowa Western has a solid ball team and they had a lot to do with some of our mistakes.

"They've got a great football team, they were deserving of being here and I can see why they won the 2012 (NJCAA) championship.

"But our guys, they're so resilient. They kept plugging away in there and doing the things they had to do, and in the end we did enough to get the job done and get the win."

Wins have been plentiful in Stephens' tenure in Scooba. And while the head coach stopped short of calling his program a dynasty, consider these numbers:

*With Sunday's title, EMCC became the first Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges member to win back-to-back national championships and the first school to win three titles in four years;

*EMCC, which finished 12-0 for the second straight year, has now won an MACJC-record 24 straight games and has captured victories in 44 of its last 46 games;

*The Lions are now 68-10 in seven seasons under Stephens, and that includes a mark of 13-1 vs. opponents ranked in the nation's top 5;

*EMCC has been to the postseason each of the last seven seasons; and during that time has won six MACJC North Division titles and four state/region championships and four bowl games;

"It's something that has never been done in this state before, winning back-to-back national titles," Stephens said. "So I'm super proud of these guys.

"The question now is can we keep doing what we've been doing. We've only been here seven years. Can we keep it going 8-10 years? Can we maintain that success?"

Stephens said the 2013 squad, soured from two disappointing losses to end the 2012 season, had a different mindset than the team which raised the trophy as darkness fell here Sunday.

"Last year, it was about revenge. They wanted to make up for the previous year. They played every game mad," Stephens said. "This year, this team had a swagger from day one. They believed they were going to win it and they went out and did it."

Sophomore quarterback Chad Kelly did the bulk of the offensive damage for EMCC Sunday, completing 40-of-53 passes for 434 yards and five touchdowns while also being the Lions' top ground-gainer.

Kelly, a Buffalo, N.Y. native whose winding story of how he arrived at EMCC from Clemson University has been told often, was named EMCC's Most Valuable Offensive Player by game officials in addition to earning the Mississippi Bowl Committee's 2014 Player of the Year honor.

"This was the first and most important decision in me coming here: To win a national championship," said Kelly, who fielded as many questions afterward about his future as he did Sunday's sparkling performance. "Winning a national championship doesn't come easy and it doesn't come often. This has been a wonderful experience.

"Our offense is so good; we had so many players and so many weapons," he said. "All I had to do was sit back and pick the right guys."

Camion Patrick was the right guy on numerous occasions Sunday, hauling in seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Ja'Marcus Revies also caught seven balls for 67 yards and a score; Brandon Acker caught six passes for 83 yards and a TD; Isaac Johnson caught six balls for 54 yards; and Preston Baker caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

Kelly hit Acker on a 3-yard scoring toss after a Quan Latham interception in the first quarter; then Iowa Western knotted the game at 7-7 on a 29-yard scoring toss from Tay Bender to Charlie Miller a couple minutes into the second quarter.

But EMCC, which only trailed one time the entire season, answered back 66 seconds later when Kelly hit Patrick across the middle. He busted a tackle and outraced everyone 66 yards to the end zone; and the Lions led the rest of the way.

"Once I got around that first guy and saw all that space, I just thought 'Run!'" Patrick said. "All I could think was to get to the pylon."

Revies' 20-yard touchdown catch made it 21-7 at halftime, although Iowa Western swung the momentum its way early in the third quarter.

A 10-yard scramble for a touchdown by Zach Martin and a 30-yard field goal by Danny Hamilton brought the Reivers (11-1) within 21-17. But Patrick hauled in a 7-yard scoring toss from Kelly with 4:02 left in the third quarter, and Baker's 33-yard catch of a tipped pass in the fourth quarter put the nail in the coffin.

Justin Lucas recorded 14 total tackles, 10 of them solos, and had 2.5 tackles for loss in earning team Most Valuable Defensive Player honors.

Latham had two interceptions (his fourth and fifth of the year) and Allen Sentimore yanked in his team-leading seventh pick of the season for the EMCC defense. Demetrius Cain and Deshadrick Truly both had fumble recoveries; while William Lloyd, Lorenzo Phillips and Ronald Ollie had sacks. Lloyd finished with seven tackles, three for a loss.

Stephens, ecstatic to get the win, said he and his staff will go back to work on assembling another team to compete for a title Monday.

"You can't win championships without players, and this school and administration and this staff has done everything to make it happen," Stephens said. "Now, we'll wake up in the morning and try to go get some more."