SCOOBA – Having already secured their sixth straight division title and a No. 1 seed in the upcoming MACJC state football playoffs, the third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College will close out their regular-season slate Thursday night by playing host to Hinds Community College. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.
With eight MACJC North Division regular-season titles in nine years under the guidance of head coach Buddy Stephens, the EMCC Lions are 7-1 on the year with a current seven-game winning streak following last Thursday's 42-0 victory at Coahoma. After dropping their season opener, 27-25, at Jones County back on Sept. 1, the Lions have since reeled off consecutive victories over Mississippi Gulf Coast (45-7), Northeast Mississippi (54-10), Itawamba (44-42), Mississippi Delta (73-7), Holmes (63-49), Northwest Mississippi (51-32) and Coahoma.
Now 83-12 (.874) overall and 51-3 (.944) in MACJC North Division play during Stephens' nine seasons at the EMCC helm, the Lions have claimed three national championships (2011, 2013 & 2014) in addition to their four MACJC state championships (2009, 2011, 2013 & 2014) and eight division crowns (2008-09 & 2011-16). Dating back to the school's first national title in 2011, East Mississippi is 59-4 overall and 35-1 within the division over the last six seasons. During that same span, the Lions are 30-1 at Sullivan-Windham Field since their 5,000-seat facility opened in 2011, including a current streak of 20 consecutive home victories over the last four years.
After entertaining Hinds on Thursday to conclude the regular season, EMCC's 2016 postseason will kick off in Scooba one week from Saturday (Nov. 5) when the Lions play host to the No. 2 seed out of the MACJC's South Division. The other state semifinal game on Nov. 5 will pit the MACJC South Division champion hosting the MACJC North's No. 2 seed. The MACJC state championship game will be contested the following Saturday (Nov. 12) at a site to be determined by the outcomes of the Nov. 5 state semifinals.
Continuing to rank third in this week's NJCAA Top 20 poll behind undefeated Garden City (Kan.) and unbeaten Arizona Western, the EMCC Lions stand fourth nationally averaging just under 50 points per game on the year. Ranked sixth among national team statistical leaders with an average of 530.5 yards of total offense per contest, EMCC hails as the only MACJC team currently ranked among the NJCAA's Top 10 in both rushing yards (8th; 229.0 yds/gm) and passing yards (9th; 301.5 yds/gm).
Individually for the Lions, two-time NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week De'Andre Johnson ranks sixth nationally with an average of 275.1 passing yards an outing. Along with completing nearly 63 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns and but four interceptions thrown, the Florida State transfer also continues to pace EMCC with 484 rushing yards on the year.
East Mississippi's balanced offensive attack also features five running backs with 120 or more rushing yards for the season as well as seven receivers with double-digit catches. Isaiah Wright has rushed for 387 yards, while Brooks Shannon and Damion Willis lead the way with 28 and 27 receptions, respectively, for the Lions. EMCCs offensive depth is also showcased by the fact that seven different players have rushed for multiple touchdowns and eight receivers have caught multiple touchdown passes on the year.
On defense, their 42-0 blanking of Coahoma last week marked the Lions' 18th shutout during the Stephens era. Individually, Texas Tech transfer linebacker Dakota Allen tops the MACJC with an average of 10.4 tackles per contest.
Guided by veteran coach and EMCC Sports Hall of Fame member Gene Murphy, Hinds is 2-6 overall this season and finished 2-4 in division play with wins over Southwest Mississippi (27-0) and Copiah-Lincoln (17-14). They opened the campaign with non-division home setbacks to Northwest Mississippi (40-17) and Itawamba (45-20).
EMCC's Stephens owns a 2-1 career mark against Hinds with both wins coming during the Lions' initial national championship season in 2011. After earning a 20-17 road win in Raymond during Week 2 five years ago, EMCC later claimed a 55-24 home victory over the Eagles during the 2011 MACJC state semifinals played in Scooba.
Thursday's EMCC-Hinds regular-season finale 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.