SCOOBA – The sixth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College scored the game's first 31 points Saturday afternoon at Sullivan-Windham Field on the way to a 48-24 victory over MACJC North Division rival Itawamba Community College to cap off Homecoming Weekend festivities on the Scooba campus.
Taking advantage of a 41-yard, game-opening kickoff return by DJ Law, the home-standing Lions needed just five plays and 57 seconds to get on the scoreboard. Sophomore quarterback Wyatt Roberts found Allenzae Staggers with a 13-yard touchdown toss to begin the game's scoring.
Later in the quarter, EMCC's lengthy second drive of the contest stalled out in the red zone, and the home team had to settle for Grayson Pontius' 32-yard field goal to make it 10-0. The freshman kicker from Biloxi had a chance to add points on the Lions' next possession, but his 47-yard attempt sailed right.
East Mississippi's defense showed some muscle to begin the second quarter after an Itawamba drive was prolonged by an offside penalty called on EMCC during a short field goal attempt by the visitors. With first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, the Indians were denied on fourth down when Devin Bush was stopped a yard short of the goal line. The Lions proceeded to march 99 yards on 11 plays, as Roberts went 6-for-7 through the air on a drive that was capped by Jacquez Horsley's 23-yard touchdown run to the left pylon at the 11:24 mark.
The two-time reigning NJCAA champions made it 24-0 at the break by scoring during the final seconds of the opening half. With the ball and less than a minute remaining in the half, the Lions faced a fourth-and-10 with time running out when Roberts connected with Isaiah Wright over the middle and between defenders for a 37-yard touchdown strike with just 1.7 seconds left on the first-half clock.
Following intermission, the Lions stretched the margin to 31-0 when Roberts hit Florida State transfer Isaiah Jones for a 55-yard catch-and-run down the left sideline with 10:46 remaining in the third quarter. The Indians then benefitted from an EMCC fumble by converting the miscue into a 38-yard field goal by Zach Ellis at the 7:47 mark to get on the scoreboard for the first time.
The two teams traded scores during a high-scoring fourth quarter in which 38 total points were recorded. East Mississippi answered ICC's 13-yard touchdown connection between quarterback Kwadra Griggs and receiver Dorian Gaston with Florida State transfer quarterback John Franklin III scampering into the end zone from 11 yards out to make the score 38-10 with 9:46 left in the contest.
Aided by a pair of long kickoff returns, the next three touchdowns came within a 73-second span on the game clock. Itawamba's Griggs hooked up with freshman tight end Stanley Higgins of Starkville for a 13-yard scoring pass play to cut the deficit to 38-17 at the 6:58 mark. Following Dario Robinson's ensuing 34-yard kickoff return, Franklin found Mario Lanier on the first play from scrimmage for a 44-yard touchdown toss just 18 seconds later.
Two plays following a subsequent 66-yard kickoff return for Itawamba, Griggs hit Dominic Walker for an 11-yard aerial score for the final touchdown of the contest coming with 5:45 remaining. The game's final points came on Pontius' 24-yard field goal with just 25.8 ticks left on the clock to account for the 48-24 final outcome.
In securing their 23rd consecutive regular-season home victory and improving to 26-1 collectively at the current Sullivan-Windham Field site, East Mississippi was credited with a Buddy Stephens era-record 789 yards of total offense on the day. The previous single-game school standard under Stephens' guidance was 786 offensive yards gained in the Lions' 59-6 victory at Southwest Mississippi during the 2012 season.
The Lions' 281-yard team rushing effort was led by Wright's season-high 102 yards on 15 carries. Horsley added 63 rushing yards on 10 attempts for the game.
Through the air, EMCC's three quarterbacks combined for 41-of-67 passing for 508 yards and four touchdowns. Roberts was 24-of-37 for 291 yards and three touchdowns, while Franklin finished with 156 passing yards and a touchdown on 13-of-22 accuracy. Staggers and Sammie Burroughs tied for team honors with seven catches each for 79 and 67 receiving yards, respectively. Jones followed with six receptions for a game-high 128 yards.
East Mississippi, now 4-1 overall and 3-0 against MACJC North Division competition on the year, steps out of division play for the final time this regular season by traveling to Ellisville to take on the Bobcats of Jones County Junior College on Thursday (Oct. 1).