POPLARVILLE – The visiting eighth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College scored 35 unanswered points in the opening half en route to cruising to a 49-6 season-opening, non-division victory over Pearl River Community College Thursday evening at Dobie Holden Stadium.
A PRCC miscue got things started for the visitors when a mishandled punt return gave the Lions the ball at the 16-yard line. Three plays later, EMCC sophomore quarterback Dontreal Pruitt found Antoinne Adkins over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown at the 9:48 mark. A sophomore from Meridian High School, Adkins saw his first game action since the Lions' 2011 NJCAA national championship season after missing all of last year due to a preseason knee injury.
Following a three-and-out by Pearl River, the Lions mostly stayed on the ground to set up their second score. Aided by a pair of fourth-and-short conversions, EMCC drove 61 yards on 11 plays. After five straight running plays, Pruitt connected with Heritage Academy product Brandon Bell for a 25-yard touchdown with 4:17 remaining in the opening quarter.
With EMCC's stout defense forcing a handful of three-and-out possessions from the home team during a dominant opening half of play, the Lions methodically built the advantage to 28-0 three minutes into the second quarter. First, the visitors closed out the opening quarter with Pruitt hitting speedy freshman receiver Kameron Myers out in the flat. The reigning Class 3A 100-meter and 200-meter state champion from Charleston High School collected Pruitt's swing pass, shook off a would-be tackler and sprinted 19 yards to pay dirt down the right sideline.
As Pearl River's offense continued to stall against EMCC's formidable defensive unit, Pruitt connected with his fourth different touchdown-maker early in the second quarter. This time, the former Laurel High School standout found a wide-open C.J. Bates, who darted 60 yards down the right sideline to give the Lions a four-touchdown advantage with 11:56 still remaining in the half.
It took most of the first half before the Wildcats were able to mount any type of offensive momentum. Taking advantage of a Lakenderic Thomas fumble near midfield late in the second quarter, PRCC made steady progress toward the end zone with 10 straight running plays. However, on a fourth-and-three attempt from the 4-yard line in the waning seconds of the half, Will Gross' floater into the end zone was picked off by A.J. Stamps, who bolted 103 yards the other way for his second interception of the contest. The former Vicksburg High standout, who converted from wide receiver to defensive back this past off-season, ended the Wildcats' opening possession by intercepting Gross on their second play from scrimmage. Freshman kicker Drew White, from Tupelo, booted through his fifth of seven successful PAT attempts on the night to give the visitors an insurmountable 35-0 cushion at the half.
Guided by first-year head coach William Jones, who spent the previous five seasons as associate head coach/defensive coordinator on Buddy Stephens' EMCC staff, Pearl River was finally able to get on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter. On a four-play drive started by Shaun White's 65-yard pass play to Rusty Clark, Detrick Goff's 3-yard scoring run thwarted the Lions' shutout attempt. The two-point conversion attempt through the air kept the score at 35-6 with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
Special teams play resulted in EMCC's sixth touchdown of the night when Bates blazed 62 yards to the end zone on a punt return at the 3:09 mark. The former Louisville High School performer also had four receptions for a team-high 78 yards for the game, including the 60-yard TD catch early in the second half.
The Lions tacked on a seventh touchdown with the game clock winding down, as freshman Preston Baker, of Starkville, capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard burst over the goal line as time ran out in the contest.
Pruitt, making his first collegiate start after playing sparingly behind NJCAA All-American Quez Johnson a year ago, finished the night completing 22-of-34 passes for 271 yards and four touchdowns.
Sophomore Terrence Barron, of Noxubee County, was Pruitt's most frequent target with five catches for 45 yards. In his comeback effort, Adkins had four receptions for 63 yards.
On the ground, EMCC's Thomas, from West Point, had a team-high 49 rushing yards on 12 carries.
With a composite record of 45-10 during the Stephens era dating back to 2008, the EMCC Lions kick off their five-game home slate by playing host to the traditional rival East Central Community College next Thursday (Sept. 5). EMCC will stay at home to entertain Southwest Mississippi Community College the following Thursday (Sept. 12) to close out its non-division, regular-season schedule. Both upcoming home games are slated for 7 p.m. kickoffs at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.