SCOOBA – As a final tune-up in preparation for the upcoming MACJC state playoffs, the third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College closed out an 8-1 regular season by blanking Hinds Community College, 42-0, Thursday evening at Sullivan-Windham Field.
With their eighth straight victory on the year, head coach Buddy Stephens' reigning six-time MACJC North Division champions will begin their quest for a fifth Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state football championship by playing host to the No. 2 seed out of the MACJC's South Division one week from Saturday (Nov. 5) in the MACJC state semifinals. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. on the Scooba campus. The winners of the two state semifinal matchups will play for the 2016 MACJC state championship the following Saturday (Nov. 12) at a site to be determined.
Against Hinds, the home-standing Lions scored on their first three possessions of the regular-season finale. A game-opening, eight-play drive covered 71 yards and was capped by De'Andre Johnson finding Mario Lanier for a 25-yard scoring strike at the 12:22 mark.
EMCC's offensive efficiency on the night was showcased in the team's next possession, as the Lions marched the length of the field in 13 plays. Starkville's Jacquez Horsley was rewarded for his 21-yard run to the 1-yard line by taking it in on the next play to make the score 14-0 with 4:41 left in the first quarter.
En route to registering their second straight 42-0 shutout win on the heels of last week's blanking at Coahoma, the Lions' defense set up their next score. With Hinds driving toward the red zone late in the period, quarterback JP Elkins' fumble was recovered by Diamante Pounds at the 12-yard line. EMCC back-up signal caller Vijay Miller promptly directed a seven-play, 88-yard drive that was aided by a 43-yard completion to Damion Willis to the 30-yard line. Four plays later, Miller found Brooks Shannon on a slant route for a 5-yard touchdown to make it a 21-0 contest one minute into the second quarter.
Following an exchange of turnovers between the two teams, EMCC's stopper unit forced a three-and-out to allow the offense to go back to work. With Johnson back under center, the Lions went 75 yards on six plays to move ahead by four touchdowns. Another chunk of 25 yards on the ground by Horsley preceded Johnson's 24-yard touchdown aerial to Devin Ducksworth that increased the margin to 28-0 with 10:06 still remaining in the half.
The Lions then tried to make things happen on special teams, but they couldn't capitalize on Taylor Crabtree's perfectly executed pop-up kickoff that was recovered by Duke Upshaw at the 34-yard line. EMCC's ensuing short drive stalled at the 10-yard line, and Crabtree's 27-yard field goal try sailed wide midway through the quarter to keep the score at 28-0 heading into intermission.
East Mississippi maintained its momentum coming out from the break and reached the end zone twice for the third straight quarter. On their initial possession of the half, the Lions stayed exclusively on the ground as Horsley broke off consecutive runs of 10 and 23 yards to set up freshman Tyrell Price. Coming off his 108-yard rushing effort at Coahoma, Price followed a 9-yard burst across midfield with a 48-yard touchdown scamper to make it a 35-0 contest with 11:34 still left in the contest.
As EMCC's stingy defense continued to keep the Eagles off the scoreboard in the second half with seven more stops behind the line of scrimmage following the break, the Lions added their sixth touchdown of the night at the end of the third quarter. Horsley added 28 more rushing yards during a nine-play, 49-yard drive, including the final four yards for his second touchdown of the night, that stretched the advantage to 42-0 and put the MACJC's 38-point margin mercy rule into effect for the entire scoreless fourth quarter.
Horsley finished the night with a career-high 158 rushing yards and two scores on 14 carries to record his third 100-yard rushing effort of his collegiate career.
Johnson, twice selected the NJCAA's Offensive Player of the Week this year, was 14-of-23 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns – all in the first half – while adding 79 rushing yards on eight carries.
Spreading the wealth through the air as well as on the ground, the Lions had nine different receivers catch passes during the evening. Freshman Calvin Keys Jr. led the way with four receptions for 33 yards, while Ducksworth and Ja'Moz Mark added three grabs apiece.
Defensively on the night, the Lions were credited with a dozen tackles behind the line of scrimmage on their way to registering EMCC's 19th shutout of the Stephens era (since 2008). In addition, EMCC is now 31-1 at home, including 21 consecutive home victories, since the team's 5,000-seat Sullivan-Windham Field opened in time for their 2011 national championship season.