Top-ranked East Mississippi uses balanced offense to overpower visiting Southwest, 69-20, in season opener

SCOOBA – The preseason No. 1-ranked and two-time reigning NJCAA Champion Lions of East Mississippi Community College scored 42 unanswered points in the second half to cruise to a 69-20 season-opening home victory over Southwest Mississippi Community College during Thursday night MACJC football action at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.

The 49-point triumph marked EMCC's 25th consecutive victory in a streak that kicked off in 2013 and mounted during back-to-back, undefeated national championship seasons the past two years.  With the all-time NJCAA mark of 26 consecutive wins currently held by Blinn College (1995-97), the Lions will bid to match the junior college standard next Thursday (Sept. 3) by traveling to Wesson to take on seventh-ranked Copiah-Lincoln in a rematch of last year's MACJC State Championship Game won by visiting EMCC, 54-15.          

EMCC's opening drive of the 2015 campaign was capped by a 50-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back DJ Law a little more than a minute into the contest.  The visiting Bears countered by taking advantage of consecutive miscues by the home team to tally two first-quarter touchdowns and snap the Lions' defensive streak of 22 straight scoreless quarters allowed in regular-season play dating back to last season.

A muffed punt return by EMCC sophomore wide receiver Dario Robinson was cashed in four plays later with a 17-yard scoring run by starting Southwest quarterback Neil McLaurin at the 10:38 mark of the opening period.  On the Lions' subsequent possession, Law's fumble at midfield was converted five plays later into a 24-yard touchdown scamper by LaDarion Peterson to give the Bears a 14-7 lead midway through the quarter.

East Mississippi answered quickly by knotting the score at 14-14 on a 4-yard scoring toss from Wyatt Roberts to Corey Davis at the 5:09 mark.  The Lions promptly reclaimed the lead for good 17 seconds later when sophomore Ronald Ollie recovered a fumble and rumbled 23 yards into the end zone to make the score, 21-14, on a play in which Southwest's McLaurin was injured.

EMCC's rebuilt defense, which topped the NJCAA in allowing only 7.6 points per game a year ago, got on track with a scoreless second quarter.  However, the Lions' offense also struggled getting the ball into the end zone and had to settle for Grayson Pontius field goals of 43 and 28 yards to head into halftime with a 27-14 advantage.

Southwest Mississippi cut into the deficit coming out of intermission by taking the opening second-half drive 81 yards on five plays, culminating with Tyler Shell's 54-yard scoring strike to Ravian Pierce at the 12:11 mark.  Despite the missed point-after-touchdown attempt, the visitors only trailed, 27-20, three minutes into the second half.

However, the momentum dramatically swung back in favor of the Lions when freshman running back Isaiah Wright took the ensuing kickoff at the goal line and raced the length of the field for a 100-yard return to begin EMCC's streak of six unanswered scores to close out the contest.

A trio of touchdown passes by Florida State transfer quarterback John Franklin III to three different receivers during a five-minute stretch further highlighted EMCC's 28-point third quarter.  A 5-yard touchdown toss to Allenzae Staggers at the 5:50 mark was followed first by a 15-yard scoring strike to Wright three minutes later and then on a 70-yard catch-and-run by Mario Lanier with 1:04 remaining in the period to increase the margin to 55-20 heading into the final period.

With most of the fourth quarter being played with a running clock due to the MACJC's 38-point mercy rule, the Lions culminated the evening with 3-yard touchdown runs by Roberts and freshman Jacquez Horsley.

Utilizing a balanced offensive attack, East Mississippi registered 764 yards of total offense with 385 passing yards between three quarterbacks in addition to 379 rushing yards.  While setting new a single-game team rushing mark during the Buddy Stephens era on the night, the Lions also registered the program's second-best total offense effort under their eighth-year head coach.  Since Stephens took over EMCC's football coaching duties in 2008, only a 786-yard total offense performance at Southwest Mississippi in 2012 currently ranks ahead of the team's total offense numbers produced Thursday night against the Bears.    

In his first collegiate starting assignment after backing up Ole Miss signee Chad Kelly on last year's national championship EMCC squad, Louisville's Roberts was 19-of-33 through the air for 182 yards while also accounting for two scores.  Franklin was equally as impressive by throwing for 186 yards and three touchdowns on 18-of-25 accuracy. 

A dozen EMCC receivers caught at least one pass with Staggers and Desmond Goss leading the way with six receptions apiece.  Law led the way on the ground with 142 rushing yards on 13 carries, while Horsley, out of Starkville High School, ran for 121 yards on 10 attempts in his collegiate debut.