GOODMAN – Competing in their highest scoring game since 2009, the fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College topped 16th-ranked Holmes Community College, 63-49, during MACJC North Division football action Thursday night at Ras Branch Field.
Scoring 112 points between them, Thursday's gridiron slugfest between the Lions and Bulldogs marked the most total points scored in an EMCC football game since head coach Buddy Stephens' 2009 Lions claimed a memorable 75-71 home victory in regulation over third-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast to claim the school's first MACJC state football championship.
Now 25-1 in MACJC North Division road games and 49-3 overall in division play under Stephens' guidance, Thursday's win at Holmes now looks to set up next Saturday's (Oct. 15) national top five matchup against reigning NJCAA champion and current top-ranked Northwest Mississippi. With significant postseason implications likely on the line between the two most recent national junior college football champions, Saturday's much-anticipated, EMCC-Northwest contest will culminate the Lions' homecoming weekend festivities with a 2 p.m. kickoff at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.
Thursday's high-scoring affair in Goodman featured alternating touchdowns scored by both teams during each of the game's first nine possessions. The Lions and Bulldogs took turns reaching the end zone for most of the first half until EMCC freshman Duke Upshaw snapped the offensive flurry with an interception of Holmes quarterback Dejerric Bryant late in the second quarter.
The opening period was the highest scoring quarter of the night with five touchdowns scored between the teams. With the Lions taking the game's opening kickoff, transfer quarterback De'Andre Johnson sandwiched respective touchdown tosses of 27 and 26 yards to Mario Lanier and Damion Willis between D.J. Montgomery's 65-yard catch and run from Bryant to give the visitors an early 14-7 lead with 9:37 still remaining in the first quarter.
The teams exchanged scores again to wind down the 35-point opening quarter. Matt Fuller's 16-yard scoring run for Holmes at the 5:57 mark was answered by Johnson's 4-yard keeper into the end zone late in the period to keep the Lions on top by a touchdown (21-14) heading into the second quarter.
To begin the quarter, the game's apparent first halted offensive possession was extended via EMCC's roughing-the-kicker penalty on Holmes punter Zack Schemmel. Three plays later, Treviante McDaniel scored up the middle from four yards out, but Caleb Shelly's errant point-after-touchdown attempt kept it a one-point contest with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.
The Lions responded once again on their next possession with reserve quarterback Vijay Miller temporarily filling in for Johnson, who sat out four plays after getting banged up midway through the scoring drive. Following a 23-yard strike to Willis, Miller went in from two yards out to make it a 28-20 contest with 8:19 left in the half.
As was the case throughout the opening half of play, the two offenses exchanged touchdowns once again to close out the first-half scoring. After Bryant scored on a 1-yard sneak, he then connected with P.J. Simmons for the successful two-point pass conversion at the 3:24 mark that resulted in the third and final tie of the game. Following Lanier's 45-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, EMCC's Isaiah Wright bolted 48 yards untouched to pay dirt on the next play from scrimmage to give the Lions the 35-28 halftime advantage.
The visitors gained some additional momentum coming out of intermission by stopping Holmes on its initial drive of the second half. Returning to the contest under center, Johnson engineered successive scoring drives to finally give the Lions some breathing room. After a 28-yard scoring strike to Calvin Keys Jr. at the 10:18 mark, EMCC took advantage of a fumbled snap by back-up quarterback Josh Dodd on Holmes' next possession. The Lions capitalized on the miscue with Johnson taking it in from 10 yards out for his fourth rushing touchdown of the year to increase the margin to 49-28 midway through the quarter.
To their credit, the home-standing Bulldogs quickly closed the gap with the aid of Fuller's 72-yard run to the 4-yard line. On the next play, Antavius Moody produced his first of three touchdown runs on the night with 5:47 remaining in the quarter. Just when it seemed like Holmes was regaining some momentum, Wright, the Lions' valuable playmaker on offense and special teams, raced 90 yards down the right sideline on the ensuing kickoff to get it back to a three-touchdown advantage heading into the final quarter.
During the final 15 minutes of play, Miller's team-leading sixth rushing touchdown of the season came between two more short scoring runs by Holmes' Moody to essentially seal EMCC's 14-point victory and give the 5-1, 4-0 Lions their 22nd consecutive MACJC North Division win overall and 11th straight road triumph.
EMCC's Wright, from Florence, accounted for 241 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on the evening, highlighted by his 90-yard kickoff return and 48-yard touchdown run. Along with his career-high 139 rushing yards on just 12 carries, he also had a 12-yard reception.
Johnson, a two-time MACJC Offensive Player of the Week recipient on the year, completed 20-of-33 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns against Holmes. The Florida State transfer's top target on the night was Keys, from Collins, with five receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown.