Top-ranked EMCC Lions pull away with 48-24 home division win over Itawamba

Top-ranked EMCC Lions pull away with 48-24 home division win over Itawamba

SCOOBA – Top-ranked East Mississippi Community College scored 17 unanswered points in the final quarter against visiting Itawamba Community College to secure a hard-earned 48-24 home victory during Thursday's MACJC North Division football action played at Sullivan-Windham Field.

With EMCC and ICC combining for more than 1,100 yards of total offense between them for the contest, the home-standing Lions outscored the Indians 31-10 following intermission en route to improving their overall winning streak to 15 consecutive games as well as extending their win string in regular-season division play to 26 straight contests dating back to the 2013 campaign.

East Mississippi's home division opener began with the visitors claiming an early 7-0 advantage on their first possession of the game.  After holding the Lions to a three-and-out to open the contest, ICC's Dan Ellington connected with receiver Jamel Thomas for a 34-yard scoring strike on a third-and-24 play at the 12:44 mark.

EMCC responded by closing out the first quarter with a pair of scores to take its first lead of the game.  Following a 1-yard burst by sophomore running back Tyrell Price to tie the game with 9:40 left in the quarter, sophomore kicker/punter Taylor Crabtree booted a 38-yard field goal at the 5:56 mark to give the Lions a lead they would never relinquish.

After neither team managed to capitalize on respective pass interceptions during consecutive possessions toward the end of the quarter, the Lions embarked on a 14-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Price bulling his way into the end zone from 11 yards out to make it a 17-7 contest with 9:38 left in the half.  Entering the game tied for the NJCAA lead in rushing touchdowns, Price's two scores on the night raised his season's total to nine.  The Lafayette High School product finished with a career-high 120 rushing yards on 19 carries for his second 100-yard outing of the year and third of his EMCC career.           

Itawamba answered right back by marching 75 yards in 11 plays, with Ellington scoring on a 5-yard keeper at the 5:10 mark to cut the deficit to a field goal (17-14) to close out the first-half scoring.

East Mississippi's defense immediately set the tone for the rest of the game coming out of intermission.  On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, ICC receiver Malik Honeycutt was jarred from the football after a catch on a hit by freshman JaQuez Akins.  The fumble was recovered by Ty Williams at the 27-yard line, and three plays later LSU transfer quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. scrambled 21 yards to the right pylon to put the Lions on top 24-14.

EMCC's stopper unit continued to come up big on the Indians' next two possessions.  Following a goal line stand where ICC had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Caleb Comer after Ellington was stopped by Ty'Ree Evans for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Lions used consecutive sacks by Cole Baker and Marquise Griffin on the next Itawamba possession to again keep the visitors out of the end zone.  The Indians managed to get to the 18-yard line, but heavy pressure on Ellington forced back-to-back incomplete passes to halt the drive.      

The momentum gained from the defensive stops helped lead to a 59-yard touchdown run four plays later by Ja'Mori Mark, who exploded through the middle of the line and raced to the end zone.  EMCC's big play at the 2:02 mark of the third quarter put the Lions on top by two touchdowns (31-17).

To their credit despite being plagued by 11 penalties on the night, the Indians answered right back by quickly moving 79 yards on just seven plays to cut the deficit in half.  On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ellington hit tight end Chris Long on an 8-yard scoring pass to make it a 31-24 contest.  However, that would turn out to be ICC's last score of the evening, as the Lions tallied the game's final 17 points to register their 26th consecutive home victory spanning back to 2013.

East Mississippi's game-clinching stretch started with Scott hitting Marshall University transfer receiver Brandon Rodgers in the back right corner of the end zone with a 29-yard scoring strike one minute into the final period.  Later in the quarter, Crabtree tacked on a 39-yard field goal at the 6:57 mark to stretch the margin to 41-24.  The Lions' final score was set up by Mark's 35-yard scamper to the 17-yard line, which was promptly followed by Scott's touchdown toss to freshman receiver Dontario Drummond with 1:38 remaining.

Mark, a sophomore out of Tylertown, rushed for a career-high 106 yards on only five carries with his long runs of 59 and 35 yards.  Scott, who was 21-of-35 through the air for 200 yards and two touchdowns, also approached the century mark on the ground with 91 net rushing yards on 16 attempts despite a pair of sacks.  His top aerial targets were Kirk Merritt with eight catches for 71 yards and Rodgers with four grabs for 57 yards.

Coach Buddy Stephens' EMCC Lions, now 4-0 overall and 2-0 in division play, travel to Moorhead to take on the Trojans of Mississippi Delta Community College on Thursday (Sept. 28).  Kickoff at Jim Randall Stadium is set for 7 p.m.