FULTON – Reigning national and state champion East Mississippi Community College successfully opened MACJC North Division football action with a 56-26 road victory over Itawamba Community College Thursday evening at Eaton Field on the ICC campus.
True to form with recent EMCC-ICC gridiron battles, this year's division opener featured more than 1,000 yards of total offense in addition to producing 53 first downs and 82 total points between the two teams. Heading into the contest, the Lions and Indians had combined to score an average of 76.7 points per game between them during the previous three meetings dating back to 2015.
Having reached the 50-point mark during each of their first two wins of the season, the Lions established early control of the contest by scoring on their first three possessions of the game and mounting an early 21-3 lead in the opening quarter. Following a game-opening three-and-out forced by EMCC, the visitors opened the offensive slugfest at the 12:12 mark with a 41-yard touchdown reception by Adrian Miller from former Itawamba AHS standout Vijay Miller. The Lions struck again less than three minutes later when the local product connected with Dontario Drummond for a 69-yard catch and run down the left sideline to quickly make the score 14-0 with 9:22 left in the opening quarter.
EMCC's defense stood out early in the contest by keeping the Indians out of the end zone until late in the second quarter. ICC managed to get on the scoreboard at the 5:23 mark with Caleb Comer's 19-yard field goal but only after the Lions held tight despite a first-and-goal opportunity for the home team. EMCC then capped an eight-play, 59-yard drive with a 7-yard scoring run by Notre Dame transfer running back Deon McIntosh to close out the first-quarter scoring.
Following an exchange of turnovers to open second-quarter action, including another impressive goal-line defensive stand by the Lions that was capped by Fred Hervey's pass interception, the Indians added a 27-yard field goal by Comer to make it a 21-6 contest with 8:11 remaining in the opening half.
The game's momentum took two major swings during the final five minutes of the first half. After being pinned at their own 5-yard line following an EMCC punt, the Indians quickly made it a one-score game when De'Sean Dinkins busted a third-and-3 play up the middle for an 88-yard scoring jaunt down the right sideline to cut the deficit to 21-13 at the 4:59 mark.
Though delayed somewhat after DJ Clayton's 93-yard touchdown return on the ensuing kickoff was nullified because of an illegal block penalty, EMCC managed to turn the momentum back in its favor with two quick scores over the half's final couple of minutes. At the 1:27 mark, McIntosh finished off an eight-play, 37-yard drive with a 1-yard burst into the end zone for his second score of the night and seventh rushing touchdown of the season. The Lions then reclaimed control of the contest on the ensuing kickoff when they forced and recovered a fumble on the return. On the heels of McIntosh's 17-yard pickup to the 4-yard line, Vijay Miller powered his way the remaining four yards for his first of three rushing touchdowns on the evening to make it a 35-13 contest heading into intermission.
With second-half ball possession following the break, the Lions wasted little time to extend their advantage to 42-13 within the half's opening minute of play. After Keon Moore found the left edge for a gain of 31 yards on the ground, Vijay Miller connected with Drummond over the middle for a 34-yard scoring pass play with 14:10 still remaining to play in the third quarter. Drummond's scoring grab marked his second touchdown catch of the night, fifth of the year and 15th of his EMCC career.
From there, the two teams traded scores two more times to complete the game's scoring. The 27-point third quarter continued with ICC's Hiram Wadlington capping a nine-play, 70-yard scoring drive with a 2-yard run to make the score 42-19.
Following back-to-back lost fumbles by the respective quarterbacks around midfield, EMCC's Vijay Miller made up for his miscue by taking it in from eight yards out to extend the margin to 30 points (49-19) midway through the third quarter. The Indians answered with the final score of the period coming on a 35-yard touchdown toss over the middle from Clark Mills to Jamel Thomas.
The game's 11th and final touchdown of the night came during the opening minutes of the final period. Vijay Miller accounted for his sixth touchdown of the contest with a 10-yard scoring run at the 12:43 mark to reach the final margin of 56-26.
Playing in his hometown of Fulton, Miller evenly split his half-dozen touchdowns on the ground and in the air. The reigning MACJC Offensive Player of the Week completed 23-of-36 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 65 rushing yards and three more scores on 12 attempts to individually amass 410 yards of total offense in the contest.
Compiling 629 yards of total offense as a team (242 rush/387 pass), the Lions were led on the ground by Moore's game-high 125 rushing yards (119 after halftime) on 14 carries. McIntosh followed with 72 yards and two touchdowns on 13 rushes. Through the air, EMCC's Julian Conner and Kalem Reddix led the way with six and five receptions, respectively. Drummond followed with four catches for 136 yards, including his touchdowns grabs of 69 and 34 yards.
Winners of 77 of their last 82 contests dating back to their first of four national championship seasons coming over the past seven years (2011, '13, '14 & '17), 11th-year head coach Buddy Stephens' top-ranked EMCC Lions (3-0, 1-0 MACJC North) return home to play host to the Trojans of Mississippi Delta Community College on Thursday (Sept. 20). Kickoff for the MACJC North Division contest is set for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.