SENATOBIA – Lindsey Scott Jr.'s two-point pass conversion to Daniel Crowell Jr. in the second overtime lifted the top-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College to a 67-66 road victory over No. 4 Northwest Mississippi Community College during Saturday's MACJC state championship game played at Bobby Franklin Field.
Featuring seven lead changes and four ties, along with 1,302 combined yards of total offense and 70 first downs between the two teams, the instant classic was a rematch of last year's state title game won by EMCC, 38-30, in Scooba. The victory marks the Lions' sixth state championship in nine years under 10th-year head coach Buddy Stephens.
The win also earns No. 1 East Mississippi an invitation to participate in next month's Mississippi Bowl and most likely a shot at playing for the school's fourth NJCAA championship in seven years. The Mississippi Bowl is slated for Sunday, Dec. 3 at May Memorial Stadium on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston. The NJCAA's final regular-season rankings will be released on Monday with bowl bids beginning on Tuesday.
Saturday's epic state title tilt began with the host Rangers drawing first blood on Kevin Perkins' 4-yard scoring run at the 11:10 mark of the opening quarter. The Lions promptly responded with a seven-play, 81-yard drive that was capped at the 8:28 mark by Scott's 8-yard touchdown pass to Dontario Drummond for their first of three scoring connections on the day.
EMCC's defense put the visitors in position to take their first lead of the game, as Monta Thomas' fumble was recovered by Joseph Anderson deep in Northwest territory. Following a 16-yard pass play to Drummond, Tyrell Price went in from five yards out for his first of four scores in the contest – three on the ground and another through the air. The Rangers answered with a 13-play, 72-yard drive that culminated with Drake McCarter's 30-yard field goal to end the first-quarter scoring with the visitors on top, 14-10.
After Northwest reclaimed the advantage, 17-14, on a 5-yard touchdown toss from Jack Abraham to Demarcus Jones at the 10:31 mark, the Lions went 89 yards on just seven plays to take the lead right back with Ja'Mori Mark bolting through the middle of the line on a 20-yard scoring scamper. EMCC's missed point-after-touchdown attempt kept the score at 20-17 with 8:09 remaining in the first half.
The two teams exchanged turnovers late in the half to set up the final scoring heading into intermission. After Scott fumbled in the red zone, Lion linebacker Emanuel Bridges picked off Abraham's pass to put EMCC in position for Crabtree's successful 33-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
The visitors maintained control of the contest during the third quarter by holding a pair of game-long, 13-point leads. Midway through the quarter, Price plowed in from a yard out to cap a 13-play, 80-yard drive and give the Lions a 30-17 advantage. The Rangers answered with a lengthy 12-play, 92-yard drive that culminated with Perkins' 29-yard scoring run to make it a one-score game with 2:46 left in the period. Capitalizing on Brandon Rodgers' ensuing 67-yard kickoff return, the Lions reclaimed their 13-point advantage on another 1-yard scoring burst by Price with 40 seconds remaining in the quarter.
The final quarter of regulation play featured 43 points scored between the two teams, including another lead change and two ties to set up an equally dramatic overtime session. After the Rangers opened the quarter with an 18-yard scoring pass play from Abraham to Quarderman Sloan, their special teams unit stepped up by blocking Crabtree's 36-yard field goal attempt at the 12:26 mark. Five plays later, the home team was back on top, 38-37, with Abraham's 12-yard touchdown toss to Jerrick Orr.
The momentum then completely swung Northwest's way when Turner Rotenberry picked off Scott for a 51-yard interception return to the end zone. The pick six at the 9:08 mark gave the Rangers their biggest lead of the game at 45-37.
Following a three-and-out by EMCC on the subsequent series, the Lions' defense then rose to the occasion to give the visitors new life. A fumble recovery at midfield paved the way three plays later for a 44-yard catch and run from Scott to Price. The ensuing two-point pass conversion from Scott to Mike Williams knotted the score at 45-all with 4:27 remaining in regulation.
The offensive slugfest continued over the final four minutes of regulation play. Abraham's 7-yard scoring pass to JaVonta Payton at the 2:06 mark was answered by Scott's 9-yard touchdown toss to Drummond with just eight ticks left in regulation to set up a pair of thrilling overtime periods tied at 52-all.
The Lions scratched the scoreboard first in overtime with Crowell snagging a pass from Scott and breaking tackles during a 19-yard scoring pass play. Northwest promptly responded by tying the game for the fourth time on Perkins' 11-yard touchdown run.
With ball possession to begin the second overtime, the Rangers immediately went on top, 66-59, on Abraham's 25-yard scoring strike to Orr. On a third-and-five play, EMCC answered with Scott and Drummond connecting on a 20-yarder to pull the Lions to within a single point. However, rather than immediately going for the tie with a PAT to enter a third OT, the reigning state champions called a timeout to discuss their options. The result was Scott finding Crowell breaking open in the back left corner of the end zone for the game-winning, two-point conversion.
Along with avenging their lone loss of the season – 61-38 at Senatobia on Oct. 12 – the Lions also snapped Northwest's 16-game home winning streak.
Statistically, the state championship rematch was as evenly matched as the final score. The Lions narrowly out-gained Northwest, 658-644, in total offense yards. EMCC had 471 passing yards and 187 rushing, while the Rangers countered with 487 yards through the air and 157 on the ground.
Individually, EMCC's Scott accounted for 575 yards of total offense, five touchdown passes and a pair of two-point conversion completions. The LSU transfer quarterback threw for 471 yards on 29-of-44 passing in addition to rushing for 104 net yards on 20 attempts. On the receiving end, Drummond led the way for the winners with 11 catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Williams, a Georgia Southern transfer, added 107 receiving yards on four grabs, including a game-best 68-yarder.