CLARKSDALE – Bouncing back from a sluggish opening half, the fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College claimed their division road opener with a 48-17 victory over Coahoma Community College Thursday night at James E. Miller Stadium.
Following EMCC's game-opening, three-and-out possession, the Lions gave Coahoma excellent field position by making contact with the punt returner calling for a fair catch. Starting their drive near midfield, the Tigers had a first-and-goal opportunity from the 2-yard line. However, the Lions' defense stiffened with consecutive negative-yardage plays to force a 19-yard field goal from Jonathan O'Hara at the 9:47 mark.
Entering the contest averaging just over 50 points per game on the year, EMCC's offense seemed to get on track late in the first quarter. Freshman quarterback Quez Johnson found sophomore transfer receiver Corey Smith for scoring pass plays of seven and 34 yards on successive possessions four minutes apart to put the visitors on top 14-3 with 3:40 left in the opening quarter.
The home-standing Tigers answered right back by moving the ball 65 yards on five plays, capped by a 44-yard scoring toss from Roderick McKee to Jordan Taylor to close out the first-quarter scoring.
Another fluke play extended Coahoma's initial drive of the second quarter when O'Hara's punt glanced off an EMCC player, allowing the Tigers to maintain possession of the ball. Fortunately for the Lions, sophomore safety Justin Cox picked off his first interception of the season and sixth of his collegiate career later in the drive and returned it to near midfield. The visitors took advantage of the CCC miscue with Johnson barreling into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from a yard out to give the reigning NJCAA National Champions a 21-10 lead with 8:09 remaining in the half.
After seemingly gaining the momentum by forcing an apparent three-and-out on the ensuing Coahoma possession, the Lions were hurt by another costly mistake on special teams by running into the punter. Three plays later, McKee hooked up with Taylor once again on a 49-yard scoring strike to cut Coahoma's deficit to 21-17 with 5:19 remaining until intermission.
To their collective credit, the Lions subsequently responded with a 10-play, 59-yard drive that culminated with Rodriguez Moore's 3-yard touchdown run at the 1:27 mark to extend the visitors' halftime margin to 28-17.
East Mississippi established control of the game on its opening drive of the second half courtesy of Moore's 41-yard scamper down the left sideline to make it a 35-17 contest with 10:14 left in the third quarter. Later in the quarter following an exchange of turnovers, Moore tallied his third rushing touchdown of the game and eighth of the year by bolting 15 yards around left end as the horn sounded for the end of the third quarter.
Having registered a dozen scoreless quarters in the four prior games entering the Coahoma contest, EMCC's defensive unit kept its scoreless second half against the Tigers intact during the home team's initial drive of the final period. With another first-and-goal opportunity from the 2-yard line with the aid of two EMCC penalties, Coahoma was held out of the end zone four straight plays on a pair of incomplete passes and a tandem of stuffed run attempts at the line of scrimmage.
EMCC's second-half shutout was also in jeopardy the previous quarter on two different occasions within a four-play span. First with 7:15 left in the quarter, McKee connected with Daveonn Porter out of the backfield for an apparent 78-yard scoring play. However, the touchdown was nullified because of an illegal-block penalty on the Tigers. Less than two minutes later, McKee then hit an open Keenan Daniels with a pass over the middle, but the receiver inexplicably dropped the ball on his way to a probable 46-yard score. The Lions gained control of the football by recovering the fumble in the end zone.
Basically staying on the ground to eat up the fourth-quarter game clock, EMCC's final score of the contest came on a 19-yard pass play from Johnson to fellow Starkville High School product Billy Shed. The scoring finale came at the 5:32 mark and followed eight straight running plays by the Lions.
Struggling somewhat in their passing game on the night, the EMCC Lions did have four different ball-carriers rush for 50 or more yards en route to a season-best, 339-yard effort on the ground. Moore, of Bastrop, La., led the way by recording his ninth career 100-yard rushing outing with 119 yards and the three touchdowns on 11 carries. Former West Point High School standouts Lakenderic Thomas and Xavier Hogan followed with 73 and 62 yards, respectively. Johnson added 52 rushing yards and a score on 11 attempts to go along with his 13-of-26 passing night for 135 yards and the three scoring strikes plus one interception.
Smith, a transfer from Grand Rapids [MI] Community College by way of Akron, Ohio, had three catches for 53 yards. Fellow transfer Nick Brassell, from Ole Miss via South Panola High School, topped EMCC's receivers with four grabs for 45 yards.
Winners of 17 consecutive games dating back to last year's 12-0 NJCAA National Championship campaign, head coach Buddy Stephens' 5-0 EMCC Lions now have a long week to prepare for next Saturday's (Oct. 6) Homecoming contest against division foe Holmes Community College. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.