SCOOBA – The second-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College secured their third consecutive MACJC North Division football championship and fifth division title in six seasons under head coach Buddy Stephens by registering a 59-13 home victory over Itawamba Community College during Thursday night's regular-season finale played at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.
Set to make their sixth straight appearance in the MACJC State Playoffs, the 9-0 EMCC Lions will open 2013 postseason play by entertaining fifth-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College next Saturday (Nov. 2) on the Scooba campus. In a rematch of the 2011 and 2009 MACJC State Championship contests both won by EMCC in Scooba, kickoff for this year's semifinal-round contest is set for 2 p.m.
With Thursday's win over ICC, the Lions also finished out their second undefeated regular season in three years, following on the heels of their 12-0 NJCAA National Championship campaign in 2011.
In next Saturday's other opening-round playoff battle, fourth-ranked and MACJC South Division Champion Jones County Junior College will play host to MACJC North Division runner-up Itawamba in Ellisville. The two semifinal-round winners will then play for the 2013 MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Championship the following Saturday (Nov. 9) at a site to be determined based on the first-round outcomes.
In Thursday's division-title meeting between EMCC and ICC, the home team bounced back from a game-opening fumbled snap near midfield with a three-and-out defensive stand before embarking on an 11-play, 92-yard drive capped by Dontreal Pruitt's 12-yard scoring strike to former Laurel High School teammate Justin Mack at the 11:43 mark.
Following another three-and-out ICC possession, the Lions' special teams flexed their collective muscle after Pruitt was picked off for only the fourth time this year. After keeping the Indians out of the end zone despite a first-and-goal opportunity from the 4-yard line, EMCC sacks leader Jimmie Gipson III busted straight through the line to block Jeb Millender's 24-yard field goal attempt midway through the opening quarter.
Two plays later, Pruitt hit wide receiver C.J. Bates with an 85-yard, catch-and-run connection down the sideline to make the score 14-0 with 6:07 remaining in the quarter. The Pruitt-to-Bates hook-up marked EMCC's longest offensive play of the season.
To their credit, the Indians responded with an 11-play drive that resulted in a 4-yard scoring pass play from quarterback Griff Loftis to tight end Archie Dennard at the 1:05 mark. With EMCC having entered its regular-season finale surrendering but three touchdowns all season – all on the ground – the ICC touchdown pass marked the year's first score through the air allowed by the Lions.
The Lions' quick-strike attack needed only the next minute to move 57 yards on just four plays to score at the first-quarter buzzer. Following a drive-opening, 38-yard pass from Pruitt to Antoinne Adkins, EMCC's Todd Mays accounted for the next 19 yards on three straight running plays. His final 3-yard burst to the goal line was fumbled but recovered by Lakenderic Thomas in the end zone to increase the margin to 21-7.
EMCC's NJCAA-leading defensive unit helped set up the home team's fourth touchdown of the evening. The Lions opened second-quarter action halting a seven-play ICC drive by stopping the Indians on a fourth-and-three opportunity within the red zone. On the visitors' next possession, freshman linebacker Demetrius Cain picked off his second pass interception in as many weeks. Thomas went to work again by starting the ensuing EMCC drive with a 30-yard run prior to hauling in a 9-yard pass and then scoring from three yards out for his 12th touchdown of the season.
The Lions then used up the final five minutes of the first-half game clock with a 15-play drive that began at the 5-yard line and culminated with a 32-yard field goal by Drew White at the halftime horn to make the score 31-7 heading into intermission.
On EMCC's initial possession following the break, Thomas accounted for 40 rushing yards on the drive while Pruitt added 33 yards on the ground to set up Mays' team-leading 14th rushing touchdown of the year. His 5-yard scoring run at the 10:16 mark was followed by a innovative two-point play from Pruitt, who turned a low snap on an extra-point kick attempt into a successful pass conversion to linebacker Benny McCall.
Itawamba, now 6-3 heading into the playoffs, then became the first opponent to score twice on the Lions this season when Loftis hit Shante Rogers on a 49-yard touchdown pass immediately following an EMCC punt. The failed two-point conversion attempt kept the score at 39-13 with 6:52 left in the third quarter.
Pruitt, the reigning NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week and two-time MACJC Offensive Player of the Week, later had a hand in EMCC's next two scores. After notching his fifth rushing touchdown of the year on a 9-yard keeper to close out the third-quarter scoring, he connected with Brandon Bell for a 37-yard touchdown pass at the 13:21 mark of the final period.
Having entered the contest averaging an NJCAA-best 66.3 points an outing offensively, the Lions' final score of the game came on Preston Baker's 7-yard scamper into the end zone with 2:57 left on the game clock. The failed point-after-touchdown kick attempt resulted in the 59-13 final outcome.
Statistically, Pruitt finished the contest completing 21-of-30 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore signal caller also had 94 rushing yards and a score on 15 attempts to account for 443 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
Coming off his career-best, 200-yard rushing effort at Northwest Mississippi last week, West Point's Thomas paced the Lions' trio of 90-yard ground-gainers against ICC with 117 rushing yards and two scores on 13 carries. Mays neared the century mark finishing with 97 yards and a touchdown on a dozen rushing attempts.
Through the air, Bates tied his season high with seven receptions for a season-best 150 yards, including the 85-yard scoring play. The former Louisville High School standout now has a trio of 100-yard receiving games on the campaign.