SCOOBA – Atop the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Preseason Football Rankings for the sixth time in the last eight years, the five-time national champion Lions of East Mississippi Community College are set to open the 2019 campaign by traveling to Raymond to take on the Hinds Community College Eagles Thursday evening. Kickoff for the season-opening, interdivisional contest is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Gene Murphy Field/Joe Renfroe Stadium.
With their five national championships coming over the last eight years, including back-to-back NJCAA titles twice (2017-18 & 2013-14), the EMCC Lions are seeking to join six-time NJCAA champions Butler (Kan.) and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for the most all-time football team championships in NJCAA history. Coming off their fourth unbeaten season since 2011, the Lions enter the 2019 campaign having won 86 of their last 91 games spanning back to their first national championship eight years ago, including a current 17-game winning streak.
Coach Buddy Stephens begins his 12th season as East Mississippi's head football coach with a career head coaching record of 110-13 (.894) to rank tied for fifth place among the NJCAA's winningest active head football coaches. The three-time NJCAA Coach of the Year recipient also stands as the NJCAA's all-time leader in career winning percentage for head football coaches with at least 100 career games coached. Along with the five national championships, Stephens has also guided the EMCC Lions to seven MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 titles and nine MACJC North Division regular-season crowns.
With Washington State transfer quarterback Connor Neville (Beaverton, OR) tabbed to direct the EMCC offense this season, the Lions return sophomore running back Keon Moore in the backfield. The Harrison Central High School product rushed for 531 yards and five touchdowns on 88 carries a season ago as an EMCC freshman. In the passing game, West Point's Jason Brownlee and Noxubee County's Rashad Eades are being counted on to step up as sophomore starters at the outside receiver positions after each collecting 14 pass receptions last year for the Lions. Among EMCC's anticipated incoming offensive weapons will be highly touted, in-state products Hamm McGee (St. Martin HS), Zach Patterson (Corinth), Myles Hopson (Madison Central HS) and Zias Perryman (Laurel).
Defensively, the Lions appear to have reloaded a defensive unit that led the NJCAA by allowing an average of only 11.2 points per game a year ago. Charleston native Fred Hervey returns at one linebacker spot after leading EMCC with 93 total tackles as a freshman. He will be joined among the lauded linebacker corps by returning starter EJ Woods (Natchez) along with the arrival of incoming freshman Jasper Williams from Grenada and Tennessee's 2018 Class 5A Mr. Football recipient DeShawn Page out of Knoxville's Fulton High School. Within the secondary, sophomores Shavoke' Herrington (Natchez) and CJ Terrell (Oxford) bid to step into starting roles, while Ole Miss transfer Kevontae' Ruggs (Montgomery, AL) and Noxubee County's Keymarcus Jackson look to make immediate impacts. West Point's Terence Cherry returns for the Lions along the defensive front. He will be surrounded by a talented transfer group comprised of Dante' Carter (Southeastern Louisiana/New Orleans, LA), Da'Vontae McCrae (North Carolina State/Miami, FL) and former Ellsworth Community College teammates Julius Coates (Rockford, IL) and Maurice White (Detroit, MI). Meridian products Jamond Gordon and Deuntra Hyman should also figure prominently into the Lions' defensive rotation.
Guided by third-year head coach Larry Williams, the Hinds Eagles are coming off a 4-5 season (2-4 in MACJC South) a year ago after earning their first MACJC playoff berth since 2013 the previous season. Williams, who spent the 2010 season as EMCC's defensive line coach, previously served as Hinds' defensive coordinator for seven years (2003-09) before returning to the Eagles' staff in 2013. He succeeded retired coaching great and EMCC Sports Hall of Famer Gene Murphy as Hinds' head football coach prior to the start of the 2017 season.
EMCC's Stephens owns a 5-1 career record against Hinds, including a pair of wins in as many meetings in Raymond and a 3-1 mark in games played in Scooba. During last year's season opener played in Scooba, the Lions reached the MACJC's mandated 38-point, mercy rule margin by marching out to a 43-0 halftime advantage en route to a dominating 50-0 home shutout victory over preseason 13th-ranked Hinds. While piling up 423 yards of total offense in the opening half of play (559 yards for the game), the Lions held the visiting Eagles under the century mark in total yards for the contest and registered their 21st shutout of the Stephens era. Individually for the winners, Michigan State transfer quarterback Messiah deWeaver (now at Old Dominion) earned MACJC Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 25-of-38 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns while playing only the first half.
Two years ago (Oct. 28) during the 2017 regular-season finale between No. 5 EMCC and seventh-ranked Hinds in Raymond, the two teams combined for 92 total points (58 after halftime) as the visiting Lions outlasted the Eagles by a final tally of 51-41. As a team, EMCC rushed for 311 yards and five touchdowns in the road triumph, including a career-high 154 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries by current Chattanooga senior Tyrell Price.
Thursday's EMCC-Hinds season opener will be broadcast live by WFCA-FM (107.9), out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Jonathan Holmes slated to provide the play-by-play and color commentary, respectively, while Glen Beard is set to handle sideline reporting duties. The Lions' 2019 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.