SCOOBA – The No. 1-ranked and reigning NJCAA national champion Lions of East Mississippi Community College made an early-season statement by earning a solid 46-10 victory over third-ranked Copiah-Lincoln Community College in their home season opener played Thursday evening at Sullivan-Windham Field.
The early momentum in the much-anticipated MACJC gridiron matchup swung in favor of the home team as a result of a pair of special teams miscues by the visiting Wolfpack. While punting away the ball following their unsuccessful opening possession, the Lions received an early break when William Lloyd recovered the fumble of Donald Gray's mishandled kick at the 25-yard line. Four plays later, EMCC cashed in on the turnover when sophomore back Todd Mays punched it in for a 1-yard score four minutes into the contest on the heels of a 23-yard pass play from transfer quarterback Chad Kelly to receiver Kameron Myers.
A subsequent special teams mistake by the visitors on their ensuing possession resulted in another short field for East Mississippi's high-powered offense. Co-Lin's Trent Furr shanked a 14-yard punt that gave the Lions the ball at the 36-yard line. This time, EMCC freshman wide receiver Camion Patrick set up a 1-yard Preston Baker touchdown plunge by ripping off a 30-yard, tackle-breaking pass reception down the left sideline. Drew White's successful point-after-touchdown attempt made it 14-0 with 7:59 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Wolfpack got on track late in the period by putting together a nine-play, 81-yard drive that resulted in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Daniel Fitzwater to Gray in the back left corner of the end zone. The score at the 3:49 mark cut the deficit in half but marked the only time in the contest that Co-Lin would be able to reach pay dirt against EMCC's stellar defensive unit.
With their offense putting up 17 unanswered points in the second quarter, the Lions held the Wolfpack scoreless in the period to take a 31-7 halftime advantage. EMCC's stopper squad came up big toward the end of the half when sophomore safety Deshadrick Truly picked off a Fitzwater pass in the end zone.
Prior to that key defensive play, the Lions supplemented a 20-yard field goal by White with a pair of long scoring plays prior to intermission. On a drive aided initially by two pass interference penalties called on Co-Lin, EMCC's Baker broke loose for a 48-yard scoring jaunt to increase the lead to 24-7 with 8:45 remaining in the opening half. Two minutes later after a three-and-out possession by Copiah-Lincoln, Kelly found Myers over the middle for a 36-yard catch and run to the end zone.
After the halftime break, the visitors did manage to put three more points on the scoreboard with Greg Nickles' 30-yard field goal at the 11:43 mark of the third quarter. However, EMCC's potent kick return game would continue to pay big dividends by once again providing excellent field position for the Lions' quick-score offense. On the heels of prior kickoff returns of 45 and 51 yards earlier in the contest, freshman DJ Law fielded his third kick of the night at the 1-yard line and sprinted 64 yards to the 35-yard line. Helped by another Co-Lin pass interference penalty, Kelly then hooked up with Myers from 11 yards out at the 10:02 mark for their second touchdown connection of the night.
EMCC's comfortable 38-10 advantage was further solidified by a convincing defensive stand on the ensuing Co-Lin possession midway through the quarter. Thwarting a Co-Lin drive that had started at the visitor's own 19-yard line, the Lions held tough on four consecutive first-and-goal plays from the 1-yard line to keep the Wolfpack out of the end zone.
Following another impressive EMCC defensive series that included four negative-yardage plays, the Lions opened fourth-quarter action with their sixth touchdown of the night. A 47-yard pass play on another Kelly-to-Myers connection paved the way for a 19-yard touchdown pass to Patrick with 11:27 left in the contest. White's missed PAT try and a subsequent safety earned when a Co-Lin punt snap sailed out of the end zone at the 10:05 mark determined the final 46-10 outcome.
Statistically for the winners, Kelly was 14-of-27 through the air for 220 yards and three touchdowns. The Clemson transfer by way of Buffalo, N.Y., also rushed for 52 yards on seven carries. Kelly's top target for the evening was Myers, as the former Charleston High School standout finished the night with six receptions for 138 yards and a pair of scores.
On the ground, Baker, out of Starkville, rushed for a game-high 69 yards and two touchdowns on 10 attempts for East Mississippi.
Winners of 34 of their last 36 contests dating back to their 2011 national championship season, including a current streak of 14 straight victories, head coach Buddy Stephens' 2-0 EMCC Lions will travel to Clarksdale on Thursday to begin MACJC North Division play against the Tigers of Coahoma Community College.