SCOOBA – The fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College bounced back from their season-opening loss a week ago at Hinds by claiming a 49-15 home victory over Pearl River Community College during Thursday's MACJC interdivisional football contest played at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.
Following a game-opening, 47-yard kickoff return by EMCC freshman Zias Perryman, the Lions moved the remaining 38 yards on eight plays to take the early lead at the 12:15 mark on a 21-yard scoring pass from Washington State transfer quarterback Connor Neville to sophomore receiver Jason Brownlee.
The visiting Wildcats answered midway through the first quarter on Gayden Hence's 35-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 contest with 7:11 remaining in the quarter.
EMCC's big-play potential became evident late in the opening quarter. After Zach Patterson's apparent 83-yard punt return for a touchdown was nullified due to an illegal block penalty called on the Lions, Neville connected with Brownlee on the next play from scrimmage for an 87-yard pass play to the 3-yard line. Freshman quarterback Jamari Jones then used all of his 6-foot-3 frame to reach the ball out to the goal line from a yard out and stretch EMCC's lead to 14-3 with a little over a minute left in the quarter.
Pearl River responded by outscoring the Lions, 12-7, in the second quarter to keep it at a six-point contest heading into intermission. The Wildcats' first touchdown of the game was set up by reigning MACJC Offensive Player of the Week Terrence Humphrey's 41-yard pass completion to Khalil Levy. Lance Stewart then sprinted wide to the left pylon and scored from two yards out on the next play. The two-point rush conversion attempt was stopped to briefly keep the score at 14-9 with 10:23 remaining in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, EMCC's Patterson broke loose again for a 60-yard kickoff return before being pushed out of bounds at the 36-yard line to quickly put the Lions back in business. Three plays later, Neville hit freshman receiver Myles Hopson with a 20-yard touchdown toss in the back left corner of the end zone to extend the lead to 21-9.
The visitors reclaimed some momentum heading into halftime when Humphrey found Levy across the middle for a 22-yard scoring strike at the 2:30 mark. However, Hence's point-after-touchdown attempt missed wide keeping the score at 21-15 heading to the break.
Following intermission, East Mississippi used a dominating third quarter to pull away from Pearl River and essentially seal the contest. The Lions' defense established early control in the second half coming out of the locker room. After EMCC held the Wildcats to their first of four three-and-outs during the quarter, Terence Cherry's strip sack of Humphrey produced a 21-yard, scoop-and-score fumble recovery by Detroit native and Ellsworth Community College transfer Maurice White at the 10:35 mark.
EMCC's second-half dominance on both sides of the ball continued throughout the third quarter by limiting the Wildcats to just 11 yards of total offense during the period while piling up 215 total yards of their own. On their way to a three-touchdown quarter, the Lions capped an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive with a 33-yard pass play from Neville to sophomore receiver Austin Morphis that extended the margin to 35-15 with just under five minutes remaining in the quarter.
The Lions' defense again rose to the occasion late in the quarter by setting up EMCC's sixth touchdown of the contest. A mishandled exchange in the PRCC backfield on a fourth-and-one play from the 34-yard line was stymied by freshman linebacker Jasper Williams. EMCC ultimately converted the turnover on downs into a 34-yard touchdown run by freshman Hamm McGee, who darted up the middle on a fourth-and-three play before bouncing outside for the team's second rushing touchdown of the game.
After holding the visitors to their fourth three-and-out of the quarter, the Lions followed a 33-yard pass play from Neville to Pervis Frazier with a 13-yard, play-action scoring pass to Keon Moore for the final score of the contest. The sophomore running back came out of the backfield untouched before collecting Neville's pass at the 3-yard line and then easing into the end zone on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
EMCC's defensive unit came up big once again on Pearl River's subsequent possession. After Humphrey and Levy teamed up for a 60-yard pass play to the red zone, the Lions held firm and denied a fourth-and-three opportunity from the 13-yard line to keep PRCC scoreless in the second half.
Battling back from being held to their lowest regular-season scoring output in the Buddy Stephens coaching era during last week's 24-16 setback at Hinds, the Lions rebounded to generate 612 yards of total offense against Pearl River. With 456 yards through the air and 156 on the ground, EMCC's total yards versus PRCC were the most since gaining 629 total yards during last year's 56-26 win at Itawamba.
A week removed from having their 17-game overall winning streak snapped at Hinds, this week's 34-point triumph over Pearl River extended the Lions' current home win string to 34 consecutive games dating back to the start of the 2013 football season. East Mississippi is now 44-1 collectively at home since the current site of Sullivan-Windham Field opened in time for the 2011 campaign.
Individually against Pearl River, EMCC's Neville threw for 358 yards and four touchdowns on 24-of-42 passing. Frazier was Neville's top target for the second straight week with six receptions for 56 yards. Brownlee and Jontarius Henderson were the team's leading yardage-gainers through the air with 135 and 68 receiving yards, respectively, on five catches apiece. McGee was the Lions' leading rusher on the night with 50 yards on eight carries.
The 1-1 EMCC Lions open MACJC North Division play by entertaining the Indians of Itawamba Community College next Thursday (Sept. 12) on the Scooba campus. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field.