SCOOBA – Clinching their seventh MACJC North Division football title in eight years, the eighth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College also secured a No. 1 seed for the upcoming state playoffs by earning a 49-16 home victory over No. 4 Northwest Mississippi Community College Thursday evening at Sullivan-Windham Field.
Following Thursday's upcoming regular-season finale at Mississippi Delta, head coach Buddy Stephens' EMCC Lions will play host to the No. 2 seed from the MACJC's South Division in the MACJC State Semifinals on Saturday, Oct. 31. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. on the Scooba campus. The other state playoff game on Oct. 31 will have No. 1 MACJC South seed Mississippi Gulf Coast entertaining No. 2 MACJC North seed Northwest Mississippi in Perkinston. The MACJC State Championship Game will be played the following Saturday, Nov. 7.
Featuring two of the NJCAA's top scoring teams, Thursday's Top 10 battle between EMCC and NWCC got off to a somewhat slow start offensively until freshman running back Isaiah Wright broke off an 87-yard touchdown run with 4:06 remaining in the opening quarter to put the home-standing Lions on the scoreboard first. The former Florence High School product later dove over from 1 yard out at the 12:19 mark of the second quarter for his team-leading 12th touchdown of the year. The 85-yard scoring drive, aided by a Northwest facemask penalty, put the two-time reigning NJCAA champions on top by two touchdowns.
The Rangers looked to cut the deficit in half on their next offensive possession, but Gardner Minshew's would-be touchdown toss to a wide-open Max Joseph coming out of the backfield was dropped. Northwest had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Jim Speights to make the score 14-3 with 8:38 left in the opening half.
The game's tempo picked up considerably midway through the second quarter with three touchdowns coming over the next two minutes. After missing the previous two games due to injury, EMCC sophomore running back DJ Law made his return to action known in a big way by popping through a hole on his way to a 56-yard sprint to the end zone. The blocked point-after-touchdown attempt kept the score at 20-3 with 7:58 still remaining in the quarter.
Less than a minute later at the 7:05 mark, the visitors responded with a 7-yard scoring burst by Justin Crawford that was set up by a long pass play from Minshew to Jacob McCrary and a resulting late-hit penalty called on EMCC. Speights' PAT try was then blocked by two-way starter Dario Robinson and subsequently returned downfield to the end zone by Dontavius Powell for two points and a 22-9 EMCC lead.
Along with starting the contest at a slot receiver position as well as at cornerback on defense, the versatile Robinson, of Amory, also set up East Mississippi's next score by returning the ensuing kickoff 67 yards to the NWCC 29-yard line. Following a pass interference penalty called on the Rangers, reigning MACJC Offensive Player of the Week Wyatt Roberts scored on a 14-yard keeper at the 6:37 mark. Another blocked PAT attempt kept the score at 28-9.
Northwest made it a two-score contest again on its next offensive possession by efficiently marching 75 yards on 14 plays, as Minshew and Crawford hooked up on a 10-yard scoring pass play within the final minute to account for the 28-16 halftime score.
Getting the ball back on the second-half kickoff, the visitors quickly approached the red zone on Marquisian Chapman's 43-yard run on the opening play from scrimmage following intermission. EMCC's defense stiffened to force a third-and-10 attempt when sophomore defensive lineman Ronald Ollie intercepted Minshew's pass to thwart a possible scoring opportunity.
Aided by a pair of Northwest pass interference penalties, the Lions later covered 84 yards on 10 plays to move ahead 35-16 on Roberts' 39-yard scoring strike to Allenzae Staggers with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter.
EMCC's stopper unit, which held the visitors scoreless after the break, came up big again on the next play from scrimmage. A mishandled exchange between Minshew and Crawford in the Northwest backfield was recovered by Ollie. The Lions immediately capitalized on the turnover, as Roberts hit Mario Lanier with a 15-yard touchdown pass at the 5:28 mark to lengthen the lead to 42-16.
In the only scoring of the final period, EMCC took advantage of a fumbled punt return that was quickly cashed in when Roberts connected with Robinson on a 20-yard scoring aerial for the game's final points coming at the 12:26 mark.
In a contest featuring nearly 1,000 yards of total offense between the two teams, EMCC's Roberts threw for 167 yards and three touchdowns on 13-of-18 passing while adding another score on the ground. Law, from Haines City, Fla., finished with 112 rushing yards on just 10 carries for his fourth 100-yard rushing effort in six outings on the year.