RAYMOND – Pitting a pair of No. 2 seeds in the MACJC's upcoming state football playoffs, fifth-ranked East Mississippi Community College outlasted No. 7 Hinds Community College, 51-41, during an entertaining Top 10 showdown Saturday afternoon at Joe Renfroe Stadium/Gene Murphy Field.
Set to make their ninth postseason playoff appearance under 10th-year head coach Buddy Stephens, the reigning MACJC state champion EMCC Lions (8-1, 5-1 in MACJC North) will travel to Ellisville on Saturday (Nov. 4) to take on MACJC South Division champion Jones County Junior College (8-1, 6-0) in the MACJC state semifinals. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at JCJC's Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field. The other opening-round MACJC matchup this Saturday will have MACJC North top seed Northwest Mississippi (7-1, 5-1) playing host to MACJC South runner-up Hinds (6-2, 5-1) in Senatobia. The two winners will advance to compete for the MACJC state championship the following Saturday (Nov. 11) at the site of the highest seeded MACJC North team remaining in the playoffs.
Saturday's high-scoring, regular-season finale at Hinds began with the host Eagles taking an early 6-0 lead on DeVante Scott's 4-yard scoring run at the 10:41 mark of the opening quarter. Following an exchange of three-and-outs, the Lions stayed mostly on the ground in driving 94 yards on 11 plays to move ahead, 7-6, on Lindsey Scott Jr.'s 8-yard keeper with 5:14 remaining in the period.
Capping a 10-play, 80-yard drive that began in the first quarter, Hinds reclaimed the advantage on the first snap of the second quarter when quarterback Eric Clark connected with Ra'Meik Wallace from 26 yards out on a fourth-and-three play. The visitors countered on their next possession with Tyrell Price's 9-yard touchdown run capping a 13-play, 66-yard drive at the 11:07 mark. Price's first of three scoring runs on the day put the Lions on top (14-13) for good.
EMCC's defense set up the final score of the opening half when Lorenzo Dantzler poked the ball away from Hinds quarterback Tylan Morton to give the Lions ball possession at the 13-yard line following Ty'Ree Evans' fumble recovery and 9-yard return. Three plays later, Scott teamed up with freshman receiver Dontario Drummond on a 10-yard scoring strike at the 3:06 mark to give the visitors a 21-13 lead heading into intermission.
The second half of play featured 58 combined points scored between the two teams – 29 in each quarter – with the Lions and Eagles alternating scores throughout the third and fourth quarters. After holding Hinds to a three-and-out to begin the half, EMCC took advantage of Kirk Merritt's 40-yard punt return to gain possession in the red zone. Four plays later, Price punched it in from a yard out to give the visitors their biggest lead of the game at 27-13 with 12:16 remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles responded on their next possession by marching 82 yards on 10 plays in a three-minute drive that was capped at the 8:56 mark by Wallace's 18-yard scoring run on a pitch from Morton. After making the Lions settle for a 22-yard Taylor Crabtree field goal, Hinds drove 60 yards on eight plays to pull to within four points (30-26) when offensive lineman John Dale recovered his teammate's fumble in the end zone with two minutes left in the quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Merritt gave EMCC excellent field position once again by taking the kick four yards deep in the end zone and sprinting down the right sideline 62 yards to the 38-yard line. The runback helped set up Price's 23-yard touchdown jaunt that again made it a two-score contest (37-26) with less than a minute left in the quarter.
Aided by DeMichael Harris' 53-yard kickoff return as the third quarter winded down, the Eagles cut the deficit to a field goal on the first play of the final period when Morton tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to John Hightower and then ran in the subsequent two-point conversion.
As they did all afternoon, the Lions answered with another touchdown of their own on Ja'Mori Mark's 2-yard burst that capped a nine-play, 65-yard scoring drive to make it a 44-34 contest with 11:42 still remaining in the game. The back-and-forth nature of the second half continued with Hinds marching 75 yards on 10 plays to again pull to within three points on a 27-yard scoring pass play from Morton to Wallace at the 7:41 mark.
The contest's final score and a game-clinching three-and-out forced by the visitors combined to seal the win for the Lions. First, Scott and Drummond combined on a 37-yard touchdown pass to extend EMCC's lead to 51-41 with 5:09 remaining in the game. The ensuing kickoff was then bobbled by Harris and the Eagles were pinned deep at their own 6-yard line. The Lions took over possession near midfield following a Hinds punt and proceeded to run out the remaining 3:40 of the game clock to preserve the hard-fought victory.
Statistically, East Mississippi out-gained Hinds on the ground by a commanding 311-88 margin. Price, a product of Lafayette High School, notched his fourth 100-yard rushing outing of the season with a career-high 154 yards on 18 carries. His three scores on the ground also put him atop the NJCAA statistical leaders with 17 rushing touchdowns on the year.
Scott, an LSU transfer, threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-30 passing, while also rushing for 94 yards and a score on 19 attempts. His top receiving targets on the day were Merritt and Drummond with eight and seven catches, respectively.