ELLISVILLE – The third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College earned an opportunity to defend their MACJC state football championship by holding on to claim a 24-20 road victory over No. 6 Jones County Junior College during Saturday's state playoff semifinals played at Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field.
Bidding for their sixth state football title in nine years, Coach Buddy Stephens' EMCC Lions will face fourth-ranked Northwest Mississippi Saturday (Nov. 11) at 2 p.m. in Senatobia in a rematch of last year's state championship game claimed by East Mississippi, 38-30, in Scooba. In Saturday's other state playoff game, the MACJC North Division champion Northwest Rangers knocked off No. 12 Hinds, 27-13, to earn a return trip to the state title tilt.
EMCC's road back to the state championship game didn't come easy against the MACJC South Division champion JCJC Bobcats. Following a slow start offensively by both teams, the visitors gained some momentum after forcing a turnover on downs at the Jones 32-yard line. The Lions promptly drove 68 yards on nine plays to take a 7-0 lead on Tyrell Price's 23-yard scoring scamper at the 4:51 mark of the opening quarter.
Jones County evened the score midway through the second quarter on a well-executed, 41-yard flea flicker from quarterback Chris Weaver to Jonnas Spivey.
EMCC answered right back on its next drive and reclaimed the lead on Taylor Crabtree's 31-yard field goal with 3:47 remaining in the first half.
The Lions then once again fed off their defense to set up another score heading into intermission. An Eriq Kitchen sack of Weaver forced a punt that gave EMCC the ball back with 1:28 left in the half. Following pass completions of 19 and 29 yards from Lindsey Scott Jr. to Dontario Drummond, Scott's 18-yard scramble to the 5-yard line paved the way for Price's second of three scoring runs on the day.
After the halftime break, EMCC's pair of turnovers were matched by JCJC's failed fourth-down pass play attempt out of punt formation and missed 42-yard field goal attempt by Mike Kroeze to keep the score at 17-7 following a scoreless third quarter.
The Bobcats took advantage of an EMCC roughing the passer penalty to get the ball around midfield at the start of the final period. JCJC stayed mostly on the ground during an 11-play drive that was capped by quarterback Detric Hawthorn scoring on a 2-yard keeper at the 11:23 mark.
The two teams then traded punts before the Lions used up nearly five minutes off the game clock during a 12-play, 70-yard drive that was aided by a 38-yard screen pass from Scott to Ja'Mori Mark. On a critical fourth-and-goal play with just under three minutes remaining, Price bulled in from two yards out to make the score, 24-14, and extend his NJCAA-leading total to 20 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Jones County immediately answered with a 58-yard pass play from Hawthorn to Spivey on the next play from scrimmage to set up a 4-yard touchdown toss to Kendall Parham with 1:44 left. A high snap from center on the subsequent point after touchdown attempt kept the score at 24-20.
The Lions recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock to improve their overall record to 9-1 on the season. JCJC fell to 8-2 for the year with both losses coming at the hands of EMCC, which claimed a 47-34 home win over the Bobcats to open the season back on Aug. 31 in Scooba.
To go along with his three rushing touchdowns on the afternoon, EMCC's Price posted his fifth 100-yard rushing effort of the season with 105 yards on 22 carries. Through the air, Scott completed 18-of-31 passes for 260 yards. His top targets for the game were Calvin Keys Jr. with five catches for 49 cards and Drummond with four receptions for 94 yards.