SCOOBA – A battle of division leaders will take place Thursday night in Decatur as the top-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College (4-0, 2-0 MACJC North) visit the 20th-ranked East Central Community College Warriors (3-1, 2-0 MACJC South) at the midway point of the MACJC's regular-season football schedule. Kickoff for the first gridiron meeting in five years between these two nationally ranked neighboring rivals is set for 6:30 p.m. at Bailey Stadium on the ECCC campus.
Touting an overall composite record of 78-5 (.940) with four national championships dating back to the 2011 season, 11th-year head coach Buddy Stephens' 4-0 EMCC Lions have collected all 17 first-place votes in this week's NJCAA Football Rankings. While most recently extending their home winning streak to 30 consecutive games with last week's 54-13 home division win over Mississippi Delta, the Lions scored seven different ways against the Trojans. Along with posting rushing and passing touchdowns plus a field goal on the offensive side, EMCC recorded a pick six and a safety on defense in addition to special teams scores on both a blocked punt return and a traditional punt return. Having recorded four straight 50-point efforts for the first time since the 2014 season, the reigning national and state champions opened the current season with a 50-0 home shutout win over preseason 13th-ranked Hinds followed by road triumphs over Pearl River (59-10) and Itawamba (56-26).
Despite playing the majority of three second halves utilizing the MACJC's mandated 38-point mercy rule this season, EMCC currently ranks third nationally in scoring offense (54.8 ppg) and fourth in total offense (506.8 yds/gm). Along with ranking second among NJCAA teams with an average of 336 passing yards per game, the Lions are also tied for fourth nationally with 14 rushing touchdowns as a team on the year. On the defensive side of the ball, EMCC is tied for 10th nationally with a state-most eight pass interceptions. The Lions have picked off at least one pass during each of the season's first four contests.
Individually for East Mississippi, Notre Dame transfer running back Deon McIntosh (Pompano Beach, FL) continues to lead the NJCAA with eight rushing touchdowns along with ranking second among the nation's scoring leaders with 48 points. Through the air with sophomore quarterbacks Vijay Miller (Itawamba AHS) and Messiah deWeaver (Michigan State/Dayton, OH) combining to jointly complete 65 percent of their passes, 12 different Lion receivers have caught four or more passes on the season. Kalem Reddix (St. Martin HS) leads the way with 19 receptions, while sophomore wide receiver Dontario Drummond is tied among the national leaders with six touchdown receptions this season after ranking fourth in the NJCAA a year ago with an MACJC-leading 10 scoring grabs as a freshman. The Laurel High School product is also ranked third nationally in receiving yards per catch (23.4) and 14th in receiving yards per game (81.8).
Guided by sixth-year head coach Ken Karcher, the 20th-ranked Warriors of East Central own a 3-1 overall record on the year and are currently tied for first place with Jones in the MACJC's South Division standings after knocking off Southwest Mississippi (28-21) and Pearl River (24-21) the past two weeks. Having opened the current campaign with a 28-24 setback at Northwest Mississippi followed by a 34-28 victory at Itawamba, the Warriors' first four games of the season have been decided by a collective total of only 20 points. Individually, sophomore running back James Smith III is ranked ninth nationally with an average of 114 rushing yards per game. Sophomore quarterback Mario Asagunla's top receiving target thus far has been sophomore Kevontaye Caston with 18 catches for 194 yards and four touchdowns.
With a career record of 102-13 (.887) as the NJCAA's seventh-winningest active head football coach, EMCC's Stephens is 2-0 against East Central with previous wins over the Warriors coming during the 2012 (51-7 in Decatur) and 2013 (59-0 in Scooba) seasons. Despite the two schools located only 55 miles apart, Stephens has faced East Central fewer times than any other MACJC opponent during his EMCC coaching career. Most recently in the series (Sept. 5, 2013 in Scooba), the home-standing Lions, quarterbacked by NJCAA All-American and current EMCC coaching assistant Dontreal Pruitt, amassed 642 yards of total offense and held the visitors to less than 100 total yards in earning a 59-0 shutout win over the Warriors. The previous year in Decatur (Sept. 6, 2012) during the first football meeting between the two long-standing traditional rivals since 2007, the Lions claimed a 51-7 road victory at Bailey Stadium.
Thursday's EMCC-ECCC contest will be broadcast live by WFCA-FM (107.9), out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Jonathan Holmes slated to provide the play-by-play and color commentary, respectively, while Glen Beard is set to handle sideline reporting duties. EMCC's 2018 football radio broadcasts will also be carried live by SuperTalk Mississippi (WZKR-FM 103.3) out of Meridian as well as through EMCC's campus radio station, WGTC-FM (92.7), originating from the Golden Triangle campus in Mayhew.
In addition, EMCC's weekly live video-streamed football broadcasts will be available in HD at www.EMCCAthletics.com/live. Alternate audio streams of the radio broadcasts are also available at www.wfca.fm. Fans are also encouraged to follow EMCC Athletics through the college's athletics website, www.EMCCAthletics.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (@EMCCAthletics) via the school's social media hub at www.EMCCAthletics.com/Social-Media-Hub.