SCOOBA – Looking to outright claim their sixth straight MACJC North Division football title and eighth in nine years, the third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College will close out their regular-season division slate on the road Thursday night against Coahoma Community College. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at James E. Miller Stadium in Clarksdale.
Sporting an impressive 87-percent success rate under ninth-year head coach Buddy Stephens with an 82-12 overall record, the 6-1 EMCC Lions are now 50-3 (.943) in regular-season division play under his guidance with last Saturday's 51-32 homecoming triumph over then-No. 1 and reigning national champion Northwest Mississippi. Winners of 23 consecutive MACJC North Division contests over the past four seasons, the Lions are bidding to close out their seventh unbeaten division slate since 2008 and fourth in a row.
Presently ranked third nationally in the NJCAA Top 20 behind undefeated Garden City (Kan.) and unbeaten Arizona Western, the EMCC Lions have won six straight games since dropping a hard-fought 27-25 road decision at Jones County in their season opener. Four of EMCC's half-dozen wins this year have come against opponents which were nationally ranked at the time they faced the Lions (No. 1 Northwest, No. 16 Holmes, No. 15 Itawamba & No. 17 Mississippi Gulf Coast) and another (Northeast Mississippi) that is currently ranked seventh nationally.
Running the show for the NJCAA's fourth-highest scoring team (50.7 ppg) is Florida State transfer quarterback De'Andre Johnson, who claimed his second NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week national honor of the season and third MACJC weekly recognition for his efforts during last Saturday's performance in the Lions' 19-point home victory over previously unbeaten Northwest Mississippi. Against the Rangers, Johnson compiled 422 yards of total offense by completing 26-of-40 passes for 334 yards and a season-high five touchdowns without an interception. He also netted a game-high 88 rushing yards on 20 attempts.
Johnson, who previously garnered state-wide weekly recognition on the heels of back-to-back wins over Northeast Mississippi and Itawamba, ranks fifth nationally with an average of 294.5 passing yards per game. The Jacksonville, Florida product has completed 64 percent of his passes on the year with 17 touchdowns thrown and just four interceptions. Averaging 368.3 yards of total offense per outing for the season, Johnson also continues to rank as EMCC's leader on the ground with a team-most 443 rushing yards.
In their deep backfield, the Lions feature five running backs who have each rushed for 100 or more yards for the year. Florence's Isaiah Wright leads the way with 387 rushing yards and a 7.3 yards-per-carry average, while Starkville's Jacquez Horsley follows with 253 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per attempt.
An equally talent-laden East Mississippi receiving corps finds 16 different players having caught at least one pass this season, including seven with double-figure receptions and four with 22 or more catches. Brooks Shannon heads the list with his team-high 26 grabs following his 10 receptions against Northwest. Fellow sophomores Mario Lanier and Damion Willis are next with 24 and 23 catches, respectively. In addition, eight different Lion receivers have hauled in multiple touchdown passes on the year.
Under the guidance of first-year head football coach Steven Miller, the Coahoma Tigers are winless in seven outings this season with losses to Southwest (24-6), Copiah-Lincoln (26-6), Jones County (38-6), Holmes (34-12), Northeast (35-6), Northwest (34-0) and Itawamba (41-20). Having spent the last eight years within the NAIA ranks at William Penn University in Iowa and Tabor College in Kansas, Miller was a standout player at Northwest Mississippi before completing his collegiate career at Northwestern (La.) State.
Dating back to Coahoma's entrance into the MACJC in 1976, East Mississippi has prevailed in 39 of the previous 40 gridiron meetings between the two teams, including last season's 69-0 shutout victory in Scooba (Sept. 10, 2015) and an 83-7 road win two years ago (Sept. 11, 2014) in Clarksdale. The Tigers' lone win over EMCC in the series history came by a 40-14 tally in Clarksdale during the 1994 season.
Thursday's EMCC-Coahoma game will be broadcast live by WFCA-FM (107.9), out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Charlie Winfield slated to provide the play-by-play and color commentary, respectively, and Glen Beard set to serve as the Lions' sideline reporter. EMCC's 2016 football radio broadcasts will also be carried live by SuperTalk Mississippi (WZKR-FM 103.3) out of Meridian as well as through EMCC's campus radio station, WGTC-FM (92.7), originating from the Golden Triangle campus in Mayhew.
In addition, EMCC's weekly live video-streamed football broadcasts will be available in HD at www.EMCCAthletics.com/live. Alternate audio streams of the radio broadcasts are also available at www.wfca.fm. Fans are also encouraged to follow EMCC Athletics through the college's athletics website, www.EMCCAthletics.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (@EMCCAthletics) via the school's social media hub at www.EMCCAthletics.com/Social-Media-Hub.