SCOOBA – The fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College hit the road for the first time in division play by traveling to Clarksdale to take on Coahoma Community College Thursday evening. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. at James E. Miller Stadium on the Coahoma campus.
Riding an overall winning streak of 16 consecutive games dating back to last year's 12-0 NJCAA national championship season, head coach Buddy Stephens' 4-0 EMCC Lions slipped a spot to No. 5 in this week's NJCAA Top 20 national poll despite blanking Mississippi Delta Community College, 56-0, last Thursday in Scooba. East Mississippi opened the current campaign with non-division victories over Pearl River (35-15), East Central (51-7) and Southwest Mississippi (59-6).
Previously ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA's preseason poll as well as during the first couple of weeks of the season, EMCC still maintained three first-place votes in this week's rankings. New No. 1 Iowa Western CC, coming off a bye week, and third-ranked Butler (KS) CC evenly split the other six first-place votes. This week's NJCAA top 5 is rounded out by second-ranked Arizona Western College and No. 4 Northwest Mississippi CC. Also representing the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) in this week's NJCAA poll is Mississippi Gulf Coast, which fell from atop the rankings to 10th following its loss to now-No. 18 Jones County, along with 20th-ranked Itawamba.
For the second straight week, the EMCC Lions did remain on top as the nation's No. 1 team in the weekly JCGridiron.com Dirty 30 Rankings, which includes all NJCAA teams plus the California programs. JCGridiron.com's top 5 teams this week also include Mt. San Antonio College (CA) at No. 2, third-ranked Butler, followed by Arizona Western and Iowa Western at fourth and fifth, respectively.
Statistically as a team, the EMCC Lions are outscoring their opponents by an average tally of 50-7 on the year, including collectively outscoring the opposition 166-13 over the last three games combined. In addition, East Mississippi's defensive unit has not allowed a point in 12 of the 16 quarters played during the current campaign.
Offensively, freshman quarterback Quez Johnson is triggering a potent EMCC offense that is generating an average of 564.5 yards of total offense through the year's first four games. A former Starkville High School product, Johnson is averaging 278.3 passing yards per contest with a dozen touchdowns thrown and only a pair of interceptions on the year. With 14 different players with at least one reception this season, sophomore transfer Corey Smith (Akron, OH/Grand Rapids [MI] CC) and Starkville native Billy Shed pace the Lions' pass-catchers with 20 and 16 grabs, respectively.
Also averaging 230.3 yards on the ground as a team, EMCC features five backs who have rushed for at least 99 yards for the season. Leading the Lions' running game again this year is sophomore all-star candidate Rodriguez Moore. After ranking fourth nationally as a freshman with 1,303 rushing yards a year ago, the Bastrop, La., native is averaging 89.3 yards per game with five rushing touchdowns this season.
Guided by Freeman Horton, who doubles as the head football coach and athletic director at Coahoma Community College, the 1-3 Tigers are coming off last week's 34-24 upset road win over Pearl River in Poplarville. Prior to last Thursday's first-ever gridiron triumph over the Wildcats, Coahoma opened the 2012 football season by dropping decisions to Mississippi Gulf Coast (64-14), Hinds (41-13) and Northwest Mississippi (44-6).
In a series that dates back to Coahoma's entry into the MACJC in 1976, the EMCC Lions own a commanding 35-1 series advantage over the Tigers in football competition through the years. Coahoma's lone win over the Lions came by a 40-14 tally in Clarksdale during the 1994 season. Most recently under Stephens' direction, the Lions have defeated Coahoma by an average margin of 35 points in the four prior gridiron meetings going back to 2008. Prior to last year's 56-6 home triumph over the Tigers, EMCC had previously posted back-to-back road wins over Coahoma during the 2009 (49-20) and 2010 (49-14) campaigns.
Thursday's division contest in Clarksdale will be broadcast live by WFCA-FM radio (www.wfcafm108.com), out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Glen Beard set to describe the play-by-play action and John Lyle Briggs serving as the Lions' sideline reporter. WFCA's broadcast of Thursday's contest is also slated to be carried live in the Meridian market on SuperTalk Mississippi 103.3 FM as well as on WLSM-FM (107.1) in Louisville. Post-game highlights and interviews will also be available Friday via EMCC's YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/emccathletics, which can also be accessed through EMCC's school website, www.eastms.edu, and Facebook pages.