SCOOBA – Bidding for their seventh consecutive MACJC North Division regular-season football title, the No. 1-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College travel to Senatobia Thursday to meet 10th-ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College. The Top 10 rematch of last year's MACJC state championship game is slated for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff at Ranger Stadium at Bobby Franklin Field.
Owners of a 17-game overall winning streak and winners of 28 consecutive regular-season division games, the unbeaten EMCC Lions (6-0, 4-0 MACJC North) are looking to claim their ninth MACJC North Division crown since 10th-year head coach Buddy Stephens took over the program. During the past decade, East Mississippi has also captured three NJCAA national championships and five MACJC state titles.
Entering this week's action ranked third among the NJCAA's team statistical leaders in scoring offense (49.5 ppg), third in total offense (529.3 yds/gm), third in passing yardage (320.3 yds/gm), tied for second in rushing touchdowns (22) and fifth in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), EMCC most recently posted a 49-3 home win over then-No. 15 Holmes last Thursday in Scooba. The victory improved the Lions' composite record to 30-8 against ranked opponents (NJCAA poll) during the Stephens coaching era, which includes marks of 18-4 versus Top 10 teams and 16-2 against Top 5 squads dating back to the 2008 campaign.
For their individual efforts during last week's victory over Holmes, EMCC quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. and defensive back Duke Upshaw have been respectively tabbed the MACJC's Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week. Scott also collected national (NJCAA) weekly honors after accounting for 502 yards of total offense and six touchdowns against the Bulldogs on 32-of-39 passing for 452 yards and five touchdowns, while adding 50 rushing yards and one score on nine attempts. Upshaw, a Baldwyn High School product, was credited with 10 total tackles, a 29-yard interception return and two pass breakups a week ago.
For the season, Scott, an LSU transfer, currently ranks third among NJCAA statistical leaders in passing yards per game (307.3 yds/gm) as well as rating fourth nationally in pass completion percentage (68.7%) and touchdowns thrown (15). Led by Texas A&M/Oregon transfer Kirk Merritt's team-high 28 catches and 430 receiving yards, the Lions feature nine receivers with nine or more grabs on the year along with eight different players who have caught at least one touchdown pass.
On the ground, EMCC sophomore running back Tyrell Price continues to lead the NJCAA with a dozen rushing touchdowns this season. The Lafayette High School product is averaging 87.0 rushing yards per game, including a trio of 100-yard efforts.
Defensively as a team through the first two-thirds of the regular season, the Lions have collectively been credited with 48 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 20 quarterback sacks. Leading the way for EMCC's pass rush this year have been sophomore transfer Aarron Boatright (Pima CC) and freshman Eriq Kitchen (South Panola HS) with five and four sacks, respectively.
Guided by second-year head coach Benjy Parker, the 10th-ranked Rangers of Northwest Mississippi are 4-1 overall and 3-1 within the division after shutting out Coahoma, 35-0, last Thursday in Senatobia. After opening the season with a 34-21 win at Pearl River, Northwest rebounded from a 27-24 division loss at Itawamba with wins over Mississippi Delta (41-0), Holmes (33-13) and Coahoma. Statistically for the season, the Rangers stand seventh nationally in both total offense (486.6 yds/gm) and passing yardage (272.2 yds/gm), while ranking fourth among the NJCAA team leaders in scoring defense (12.2 pts/gm).
With a career overall coaching record of 93-12 (.886) and 55-3 (.948) in division play as EMCC's all-time winningest coach and the NJCAA's all-time career winning percentage leader for coaches with at least 100 games coached, Stephens owns a 9-1 mark and seven-game win streak against Northwest Mississippi. A year ago, the Lions swept the Rangers with both games being contested in Scooba. After No. 4 EMCC claimed a 51-32 win over top-ranked Northwest during the regular season (Oct. 15), the No. 3 Lions claimed their fifth state championship in eight years a month later (Nov. 12) with a 38-30 victory over fourth-ranked NWCC at Sullivan-Windham Field. Most recently in Senatobia, the Lions recorded convincing road wins over Northwest during their back-to-back national championship seasons (79-7 in 2013 & 49-0 in 2014).
Thursday's Top 10 MACJC showdown between EMCC and Northwest Mississippi will be broadcast live by WFCA-FM (107.9), out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Charlie Winfield slated to provide the play-by-play and color commentary, respectively, and Glen Beard set to serve as the Lions' sideline reporter. EMCC's 2017 football radio broadcasts will also be carried live by SuperTalk Mississippi (WZKR-FM 103.3) out of Meridian as well as through EMCC's campus radio station, WGTC-FM (92.7), originating from the Golden Triangle campus in Mayhew.
In addition, EMCC's weekly live video-streamed football broadcasts will be available in HD at www.EMCCAthletics.com/live. Alternate audio streams of the radio broadcasts are also available at www.wfca.fm. Fans are also encouraged to follow EMCC Athletics through the college's athletics website, www.EMCCAthletics.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (@EMCCAthletics) via the school's social media hub at www.EMCCAthletics.com/Social-Media-Hub.