SCOOBA – The fourth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College successfully began defense of their most recent MACJC North Division football title by blanking visiting Mississippi Delta Community College 56-0 Thursday evening at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.
With their second straight shutout victory over Delta and third shutout win during the Buddy Stephens coaching era at EMCC, the Lions have now collectively outscored their opposition 166-13 over the last three games this season and 201-28 on the year. In addition, EMCC's stout defensive unit has not allowed a point in 12 of the 16 quarters played during the current campaign.
On the heels of last week's 786-yard offensive performance at Southwest Mississippi, the Lions scored on their first five possessions against Mississippi Delta while jumping out to a 28-0 lead after the opening quarter. EMCC took three minutes off the clock in going 67 yards on nine plays to open the scoring. Freshman quarterback Quez Johnson scored his first of two first-quarter rushing touchdowns with a 4-yard run into the end zone at the 11:55 mark. Following a three-and-out possession by the visitors, Johnson capped a 62-yard drive by connecting with Ole Miss transfer Nick Brassell in the right corner of the end zone on a 9-yard scoring toss with 8:31 remaining in the quarter.
After the home team forced a second straight Delta punt and subsequently took advantage of a pair of pass interference penalties, Johnson bulled his way three yards up the middle for his second rushing touchdown of the quarter coming at the 2:29 mark. EMCC's stingy defense then set up the team's fourth score of the quarter when sophomore safety Shaquille Fluker picked off his second interception of the year. Six plays later, freshman running back Lakenderic Thomas cashed in the Delta miscue by tallying his first collegiate rushing touchdown with a 2-yard burst to make the score 28-0 at the end of the opening quarter.
Aided by a successful punt fake on a fourth-and-four play, the Trojans managed to move the ball past midfield early in the second quarter. However, the EMCC defense tightened and the Delta drive stalled at the 36-yard line. The Lions responded by methodically moving the ball 59 yards on seven plays in just over three minutes, resulting in sophomore running back Rodriguez Moore's fifth rushing touchdown of the year. The 10-yard scoring run with 6:44 left capped the first-half scoring at 35-0 heading into intermission.
Keeping the pressure on offensively by scoring on their first three second-half possessions, the Lions needed just two minutes to ring up another score after forcing a Delta three-and-out to begin the half. A six-play, 59-yard drive culminated with Johnson connecting with former prep teammate Billy Shed, of Starkville, on a 7-yard scoring strike over the middle to put the home-standing Lions comfortably ahead 42-0. A second straight three-and-out possession by the visitors ultimately resulted in freshman running back LeDarious Clark scoring from a yard out with 5:21 remaining in the third quarter.
The Trojans' best chance of possibly getting on the scoreboard came at the end of the third quarter. Beginning with back-to-back, 17-yard rushes by Qua'Darius Gadison, MDCC drove to the 20-yard line in nine plays. However, the drive was stymied with the help of an 11-yard sack of Delta quarterback Justin Leavy by EMCC freshman Ken Breland.
The game's final tally came with 10:12 left in the contest when EMCC freshman signal-caller Dontreal Pruitt found his former Laurel High School teammate Justin Mack in the right corner of the end zone on a 19-yard scoring pass play. Freshman placekicker Morgan Rhodes completed his second straight 8-of-8 outing on point-after-touchdown attempts to put the wraps on the Lions' division-opening triumph. The 56-point effort marked the 11th time during the Stephens era (since 2008) that East Mississippi has scored 50 or more points in a game, including a current string of three straight contests this year and nine times in the team's last dozen outings dating back to last season.
Now 40-8 overall and 23-2 with three MACJC North Division titles under Stephens' direction, the 4-0 Lions stretched their current winning streak to 16 consecutive games after going undefeated in a dozen contests a year ago en route to claiming the school's first-ever NJCAA National Championship and second MACJC State Championship in three years.
Having earned MACJC/jucoweekly.org Offensive Player of the Week honors a week ago, Johnson was 21-of-36 through the air against Delta for 228 yards and two touchdowns. The former Starkville High School product also ran for 61 yards and two scores on six carries. Shed and freshman Terrence Barron, of Noxubee County, each collected a team-high five receptions on the night for 44 and 40 yards, respectively. With nine different receivers hauling in passes for the Lions, sophomore transfers Brassell and Corey Smith followed with four grabs apiece.
Along with 304 passing yards for the evening, EMCC also displayed a balanced running attack versus the Trojans with three players rushing for 60 yards or more in the contest. Moore, of Bastrop, La., again led the way on the ground for the Lions with 73 yards and one touchdown on nine rushes. Sophomore Xavier Hogan, of West Point High School, added 62 yards on 10 totes to contribute to EMCC's 241-yard team rushing effort.
East Mississippi hits the road again next week by traveling to Clarksdale to meet the Tigers of Coahoma Community College on Thursday (Sept. 27) in a 6:30 p.m. division contest.