MOORHEAD – Despite a sluggish start with turnovers in their first two offensive possessions, the fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College claimed a 41-23 road victory over Mississippi Delta Community College during Thursday's MACJC North Division football action played at Jim Randall Stadium.
Following an opening-drive fumble by EMCC sophomore running back Keon Moore, the Lions came up empty again on their second drive when Connor Neville's pass was intercepted at the goal line by Delta's Xavier Coleman and returned 85 yards before EMCC wide receiver Jason Brownlee chased down the sophomore linebacker to save a possible touchdown. Aided by Fred Hervey's 6-yard sack of Delta quarterback Jordan Gilleylen, the Lions' defense held strong on a first-and-goal opportunity from the 6-yard line by limiting the Trojans to a 28-yard field goal by Spencer Romero at the 6:01 mark.
The visitors promptly answered by balancing the run with the pass on the way to an eight-play, 60-yard drive capped by Hamm McGee's 6-yard scoring run with 2:58 remaining in the first quarter. A missed point-after-touchdown kick attempt kept the score at 6-3.
As the quarter switched over, the Lions' defense set up their next score when freshman linebacker DeShawn Page recovered Dejhon Polk's fumble at the 35-yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, Neville and Brownlee connected on a scoring pass play 15 seconds into the second quarter that increased the lead to 13-3 following Josh Smith's successful PAT.
Later in the half, the two teams exchanged touchdowns over the final five minutes to keep it a 10-point contest heading into intermission. After recovering their own fumble on the first play of an 84-yard drive that was aided by a pair of pass interference penalties called on EMCC, the Trojans cut the deficit to three points when Delta quarterback Byron Walker hit Lebarron Jones with a 32-yard touchdown toss at the 4:55 mark.
The Lions responded with a lengthy scoring drive of their own on the subsequent possession. Freshman running back Zias Perryman ran for 38 total yards on three successive carries to help set up freshman quarterback Jamari Jones' 1-yard score at the 1:44 mark that made it a 20-10 contest heading into halftime.
The Lions established control of their division road opener by putting together consecutive long scoring drives coming out of the break while also keeping Delta off the scoreboard in the third quarter. With Perryman again serving as a workhorse on the ground with 30 yards on five rushes during EMCC's initial possession of the half, the Laurel product was rewarded with a 1-yard burst into the end zone at the 7:53 mark. The 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive was extended by a 33-yard pass completion from Neville to sophomore receiver Pervis Frazier on a clutch fourth-and-five play around midfield.
Following another defensive stand by the visitors that ended with an 8-yard combo sack by Page and Kel Williams, the Lions proceeded to march 74 yards on 13 plays during a four-minute drive that was capped by Moore's 5-yard scoring run with less than a minute left in the quarter. Another successful PAT lengthened EMCC's lead to 34-10 after three quarters of play.
Mississippi Delta made things interesting down the stretch by outscoring the reigning national and state champions during the final quarter. Walker and Jones hooked up again for the Trojans with a 20-yard scoring connection through the air that cut the margin to 34-17 with 8:46 remaining.
The Lions again answered Delta's score with a touchdown of their own on the ensuing possession. With Jones at the controls behind center, EMCC drove 65 yards on nine plays to make the score 41-17 on his 4-yard touchdown toss to converted tight end Julius Coates on a fourth-and-two play with 4:29 left. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Coates previously played on the offensive side of the ball during his high school playing days in his native Rockford, Illinois and last season at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa before switching to the defensive line.
A late-game turnover by the Lions helped pave the way for the game's final score. After EMCC freshman Kameron Martin fumbled in Lions territory, the Trojans capitalized with a 36-yard pass play from Walker to Terrell Coleman that set up a 3-yard scoring run by Ranauldrick Murrell with just under a minute left in the game.
Statistically for the game, EMCC generated 538 yards of total offense with 321 coming through the air and 217 via the ground. Neville, a Washington State University transfer, completed 27-of-41 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown along with the one interception. Eight different Lion receivers caught passes in the game with sophomores Austin Morphis (8 catches for 79 yards), Brownlee (7-93) and Frazier (6-85) leading the way.
Perryman paced the Lions' rushing attack with a season-high 94 yards and one score on 17 carries.
Coach Buddy Stephens' 3-1 East Mississippi Lions (2-0 in MACJC North play) reach the midpoint of the regular-season slate by beginning a two-game home stand with Thursday's (Sept. 26) interdivisional contest against MACJC South Division foe East Central Community College. Kickoff for the EMCC-ECCC gridiron battle is slated for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.