CLARKSDALE – Posting their first shutout of the year, the third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College secured their sixth straight MACJC North Division football title and eighth in nine years with a 42-0 road win over Coahoma Community College Thursday night at James E. Miller Stadium.
Along with closing out their seventh unbeaten (6-0) division slate in nine years under the guidance of head coach Buddy Stephens, the EMCC Lions clinched a No. 1 seed in the upcoming MACJC State Playoffs. After finishing out the regular season at home against Hinds Community College this coming Thursday (Oct. 27), the four-time state champions will play host to the No. 2 seed from the MACJC's South Division on Saturday, Nov. 5 at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field. The 2016 MACJC State Championship Game will be played the following Saturday (Nov. 12) at a site to be determined based on semifinal-round playoff outcomes.
In their division finale, the Lions stayed mostly on the ground in taking the opening drive 59 yards to get on the scoreboard at the 11:30 mark. Freshman running back Tyrell Price punched it in from a yard out for his first of two rushing touchdowns on the night.
On the heels of their efficient 11-play opening drive, the visitors struck quickly for their second score of the contest. On the second play of EMCC's third possession, two-time NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week De'Andre Johnson connected with Damion Willis for a 62-yard catch and run that made the score 14-0 with 4:14 remaining in the opening quarter.
EMCC's defense then created another immediate scoring opportunity when Dontavius Powell intercepted Brady Burse's pass for his second pick of the campaign. The Lions couldn't capitalize on the Coahoma turnover, however, as Taylor Crabtree's 28-yard field goal attempt sailed just wide during the closing minute of the quarter.
While the Lions continued to stymie the Coahoma offense, the visitors produced another pair of touchdowns late in the second quarter. Another 11-play drive resulted in Johnson and Willis hooking up again for a 5-yard scoring pass to make it a 21-0 contest with 4:42 left in the half. Following a three-and-out possession by Coahoma, EMCC used the long ball to quickly strike again. This time Johnson hit Starkville's Raphael Leonard for a well-executed, 45-yard touchdown toss at the 1:02 mark to extend the margin to 28-0 heading into intermission.
The scoring pass marked Johnson's 20th of the season, while Leonard matched Willis for the team lead with his fifth touchdown catch on the year.
Following halftime, EMCC's disruptive defensive unit forced another turnover on Coahoma's opening possession of the second half. Quarterback Rodney English was sacked and stripped of the ball around midfield to give the Lions excellent field position. After back-up quarterback Vijay Miller connected with Price coming out of the backfield on three straight pass plays that picked up 38 total yards, Price was rewarded with his second 1-yard scoring burst of the contest to make it 35-0 with 10 minutes still remaining in the third quarter.
As the third quarter rolled into the final period, sophomore end Ezekiel Rose, playing in his hometown, came up big defensively for the visiting Lions on back-to-back CCC possessions. With the Tigers in the red zone at the 15-yard line, Rose batted down Burse's pass attempt on fourth down. On Coahoma's next drive into EMCC territory, the Clarksdale product sacked Burse for a 12-yard loss in advance of the Lions' final touchdown of the evening.
Price continued his stellar outing by helping set up EMCC's last drive of the game. On the heels of his three straight rushes that totaled 38 yards, Miller's 40-yard pass completion to Ja'Mori Mark on a wheel route down the left sideline preceded Brieton Sykes' 2-yard effort into the end zone around the 10:00 mark that put the MACJC's 38-point margin mercy rule into effect and accounted for the final margin.
Price, out of Lafayette High School, finished the night with a season-high 108 yards rushing and two scores on 17 carries, while also collecting four passes for 44 additional yards.
EMCC's Johnson, a Florida State transfer, completed 11-of-21 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns, while Miller, out of Itawamba AHS, was 6-of-8 for 90 yards through the air.
Willis, a product of Southeast Lauderdale High School, had four receptions for a game-high 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Lions were credited with four quarterback sacks and 10 other tackles behind the line of scrimmage en route to registering their 18th shutout victory under Stephens' guidance.
In addition to extending its current streak to seven straight wins this season, EMCC has prevailed in 24 consecutive MACJC North Division contests over the last four seasons.