POPLARVILLE – No. 1-ranked East Mississippi Community College scored 38 unanswered points to overcome an early deficit en route to posting a 59-10 road triumph over Pearl River Community College Thursday evening at Dobie Holden Stadium. EMCC's decisive victory over the Wildcats gave 11th-year head coach Buddy Stephens his 100th career collegiate coaching win.
With a career coaching record of 100-13 (.885) at EMCC, Stephens stands as the seventh-winningest active NJCAA head football coach as well as ranking first in all-time winning percentage for NJCAA football coaches with 100 or more career games coached.
After forcing a game-opening three-and-out, the home-standing Wildcats drove 81 yards on 14 plays for the first points of the contest. Ron Thompson's 4-yard scoring run up the middle followed by a two-point pass play conversion gave PRCC the early 8-0 lead midway through the first quarter. The points were the first surrendered by EMCC this season coming off last week's 50-0 home shutout over Hinds.
The teams traded punts before the reigning national champions would initially get on the scoreboard at the end of the quarter. EMCC freshman running back Keon Moore punched it in from a yard out to cut the deficit to a single point with 41 seconds left in the opening period.
EMCC's defense would set up the game's next score with sophomore Joseph Anderson (Puckett HS) picking off Cooper Callis' pass for his second career pass interception. With sophomore Vijay Miller subbing for reigning MACJC Offensive Player of the Week Messiah deWeaver at the quarterback position, the Lions moved 67 yards in 15 plays to take their first lead of the inter-divisional matchup at the 8:20 mark of the second quarter. Miller, who spent the past two summers pitching in the Arizona League (Rookie) as a San Diego Padres prospect, capped the drive with a 2-yard scoring run for his 10th rushing touchdown of his collegiate career.
The visitors received a big momentum boost heading into intermission when Miller threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Dontario Drummond as time expired in the opening half. The Laurel product rose above a pair of PRCC defenders in the end zone to come down with his first of two touchdown receptions on the night and give the Lions a 21-8 lead at the halftime break.
The four-time national champions took immediate control of the contest at the start of the second stanza by forcing a three-and-out on Pearl River's initial possession of the half. The resulting punt return was advanced 39 yards by DJ Clayton to the 30-yard line. Three plays later, Notre Dame transfer Deon McIntosh ran it in from 11 yards out for his first of two rushing scores on the evening to extend the lead to 28-8 with 12:50 remaining in the third quarter.
A fourth-down defensive stand and another three-and-out set up subsequent scoring opportunities for EMCC and rounded out a string of 38 unanswered points tallied by the visitors. Miller and Drummond connected again on a 24-yard scoring pass play at the 8:53 mark, while freshman kicker Josh Smith booted a 22-yard field goal four minutes later to extend the Lions' lead to 38-8.
Following a mishandled punt snap into the end zone by EMCC that resulted in a safety to make the score 38-10 late in the third quarter, the Lions exploded for three more scores during a seven-minute stretch in the final period that put the MACJC's 38-point mercy rule into effect. First, Keilos Swinney's second pass interception in as many weeks set up a 32-yard touchdown burst by McIntosh for his second score of the night and fifth rushing touchdown of the young season.
EMCC's vaunted defense accounted for the next score to make it 52-10 with 10:41 remaining when sophomore JaQuez Akins had a pick-six for 30 yards into the end zone for his first collegiate pass interception. The Lions then cashed in a PRCC special teams mistake with about five minutes left to cap the game's scoring, as Moore scored from six yards out for his second rushing touchdown of the contest.
On the heels of playing the entire second half of last week's victory over Hinds in his first competitive gridiron action since 2016, EMCC's Miller completed 18-of-30 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns against PRCC. The Itawamba AHS product also picked up 60 rushing yards and a touchdown on seven attempts. Coming off an 84-yard rushing effort with three scores during his EMCC debut a week ago, McIntosh finished with 97 yards and two more touchdowns on 19 carries against Pearl River.
Now 76-5 overall dating back to their first of four national championships over the past seven years (2011, '13, '14 & '17), the 2-0 EMCC Lions are set to kick off MACJC North Division regular-season action by traveling to Fulton to take on the 14th-ranked Indians of Itawamba Community College on Thursday (Sept. 13). Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at ICC's Eaton Field.