GOODMAN – Aiming for a fifth consecutive MACJC North Division title, the sixth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College claimed a 44-28 road victory over Holmes Community College Thursday evening at Ras Branch Field.
Winners of five straight games and 4-0 in division play, the 6-1 EMCC Lions now await to play host to third-ranked Northwest Mississippi in a much-anticipated Thursday (Oct. 15) showdown on the Scooba campus. The EMCC-Northwest winner will have the upper hand in securing a No. 1 playoff seed as well as earning an opportunity to host the MACJC State Championship Game next month (Nov. 7).
Thursday's offensive shootout on the Holmes campus featured more than 1,000 yards of total offense for the game and 55 combined points by the halftime break. Coming off their last-second 42-40 setback at Northwest Mississippi a week ago, the home-standing Bulldogs continued their high-scoring pace by striking first against EMCC with quarterback Dejerric Bryant connecting with Dre Massey for a 27-yard scoring pass at the 4:55 mark of the opening quarter.
The two teams traded touchdowns one more time before the opening 15 minutes of play had concluded. Aided by a 45-yard, Bryant-to-Massey connection, Holmes followed with another 27-yard scoring strike from Bryant to Arthur Turner at the 1:29 mark. On the ensuing EMCC possession, the Lions again struck quickly with Florida State transfer quarterback John Franklin III finding an opening up the middle and sprinting to the end zone from 63 yards out. A high snap from center on the resulting point-after-touchdown attempt kept the score at 14-13 in favor of the home team heading into the second quarter.
Holmes opened its largest lead of the game by capping an eight-play, 76-yard drive on Turner's 40-yard scoring run down the left sideline at the 12:23 mark. East Mississippi answered for the third straight time by marching 59 yards on seven plays to pull to within a point (21-20) on Franklin's 2-yard keeper with 10:22 remaining in the half.
The Lions used the remainder of the half to take their first lead of the contest and then lengthen the margin prior to the intermission. With the help of a drive-opening, 42-yard run by Starkville product Jacquez Horsley and further set up by a pass interference penalty called on the Bulldogs, EMCC moved on top for the first time when Roberts hit Meridian's Corey Davis with a 2-yard touchdown toss midway through the quarter. The visitors then closed out the half during the final minute by efficiently moving 60 yards on five plays to take a 34-21 halftime advantage on Roberts' 7-yard keeper with 38 seconds remaining until the break.
Just as it appeared as if EMCC had grabbed the momentum with three unanswered scores to close out the first half, Holmes answered the second-half bell with a 66-yard catch-and run over the middle from Bryant to Massey on the second play from scrimmage. The long scoring play coming just one minute into the second half again made it a one-score contest (34-28), but that was the last time the Bulldogs would get on the scoreboard as both defenses stiffened late in the contest.
This time, the Lions answered by settling for a 39-yard field goal by Biloxi product Grayson Pontius after their long drive stalled as a result of a couple of penalties and a sack. Pontius' sixth made field goal of the season made it a 37-28 contest with 9:05 left in the third quarter.
As EMCC's defense tightened during second-half action, especially on third and fourth downs, the Lions' offense put together one more impressive drive early in the fourth quarter to essentially seal the victory. Kick-started by a 37-yard Roberts-to-Robinson pass completion, the visitors drove 89 yards on nine plays for the game's final score. Horsley's 8-yard burst to the end zone to make it a 16-point contest with 9:43 remaining on the game clock was followed by a subsequent three-and-out forced by EMCC's depth-laden defensive unit.
Playing without the team's leader rusher (DJ Law) on the year for the second straight game and minus two wide receivers (Brooks Shannon and Desmond Goss) due to injury, East Mississippi's explosive offense still managed to reach the 600-yard mark for total offense on the evening. Roberts, out of Louisville High School, threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns on 27-of-37 passing. His top targets on the night were Allenzae Staggers and Sammie Burroughs with seven and six receptions, respectively.
On the ground for the winners, Horsley, Franklin and Isaiah Wright each had 60 or more yards rushing in the contest.
Now 74-11 overall and 43-3 in MACJC North Division play under eighth-year head coach Buddy Stephens, the EMCC Lions have won 16 consecutive division games since 2013 and currently own a 22-1 composite mark in division road contests dating back to the 2008 campaign.