SCOOBA – A much-anticipated rematch of the last two MACJC football state championship games will take center stage Thursday night in Senatobia, as the top-ranked and reigning national champion Lions of East Mississippi Community College visit the second-ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College Rangers. Kickoff for Thursday's No. 1 vs. No. 2 NJCAA showdown is set for 6:30 p.m. at Bobby Franklin Field on the NWCC campus.
Both EMCC and Northwest enter Thursday's gridiron battle unbeaten on the year at 5-0 overall and 2-0 within the MACJC's North Division. With the Lions (2013-14 & '16-17) and Rangers (2015) having combined to claim the last five state football titles and five of the last seven national championships between them (EMCC in 2011, '13, '14 & '17 & NWCC in 2015), East Mississippi knocked off Northwest in the MACJC state championship game each of the past two years (67-66 in 2OT last year at Senatobia & 38-30 in 2016 at Scooba). The two schools have also combined to win the last 10 MACJC North Division regular-season football titles with the Lions winning eight times and the Rangers prevailing in 2010 and again last year.
While securing all 17 first-place votes in the NJCAA Football Rankings for the second straight week, the EMCC Lions met their toughest challenge to date a week ago before escaping Decatur with a hard-fought 24-21 road triumph over then-No. 20 East Central on Josh Smith's game-winning, 19-yard field goal with four seconds left. During the first month of the season, East Mississippi surpassed the 50-point mark in consecutive wins over Hinds (50-0), Pearl River (59-10), Itawamba (56-26) and Mississippi Delta (54-13). The Lions have won 10 consecutive games since dropping last year's 61-38 decision at Northwest Mississippi, which snapped EMCC's previous 17-game winning streak. Overall dating back to the 2011 season, EMCC has won 79 of its last 84 games, including winning streaks of 25 and 20 consecutive games.
Though being held a week ago to their lowest single-game point total since last year's 24-20 road win over Jones College in the MACJC state semifinals, the EMCC Lions rank fourth nationally with per-game averages of 48.6 points and 482 yards of total offense. Defensively on the year, the Lions have intercepted a state-high nine passes with at least one pass interception in each of the year's first five games.
Individually for EMCC, Notre Dame transfer running back Deon McIntosh is tied with Garden City's Dedrick Mills for the NJCAA lead with nine rushing touchdowns for the season. Fresh off his career-high, 177-yard rushing performance at East Central, McIntosh also ranks second in the NJCAA with 54 points scored while being tied for 13th nationally with an average of 97.4 rushing yards per contest. Through the air, sophomore wide receivers Kalem Reddix and Dontario Drummond lead the way with 23 and 18 receptions, respectively, for the Lions. With 16 career touchdown receptions to his credit, Drummond is tied for the national lead with six scoring grabs this season in addition to ranking fourth nationally averaging an MACJC-best 20.1 yards per catch.
Guided by third-year head coach Benjy Parker, the second-ranked Rangers of Northwest Mississippi are also undefeated (5-0 overall & 2-0 in MACJC North) on the year after most recently posting a 27-14 home win over nationally ranked Holmes a week ago in Senatobia. After opening the season with a 28-24 home victory over East Central, Northwest then reeled off consecutive road triumphs over Southwest Mississippi (51-6), Mississippi Delta (59-16) and Copiah-Lincoln (23-14). Statistically among the NJCAA's team leaders, the Rangers are ranked sixth nationally in passing yards (273 yds/gm), tied for fifth (w/EMCC) with 16 rushing touchdowns, 11th in total offense (435.6 yds/gm) and 13th in scoring (37.6 pts/gm).
With a career record of 103-13 (.888) as the NJCAA's seventh-winningest active head football coach, EMCC's Buddy Stephens owns a 10-2 career record versus Northwest Mississippi with identical 5-1 career marks against the Rangers in games contested in Scooba and Senatobia. Last year on Northwest's campus, the Lions avenged their 61-38 regular-season loss to NWCC by successfully defending their MACJC state championship with a thrilling 67-66 double-overtime win over the Rangers on Lindsey Scott Jr.'s two-point pass conversion to Daniel Crowell Jr. in the second overtime. Thursday's rematch of the past two state title games will mark the eighth time in the last 10 EMCC-NWCC gridiron meetings dating back to 2011 that both teams will have been ranked in the Top 10 nationally when going head-to-head.
Additionally through the years, Stephens' EMCC teams are collectively 18-2 versus top five-ranked NJCAA teams. Six of those wins have come against Northwest Mississippi over the last seven seasons, including last season's state championship victory over the Rangers and a pair of home wins over NWCC two years ago in Scooba (51-32 during homecoming and 38-30 in state title game).
Thursday's NJCAA marquee matchup between No. 1 East Mississippi and No. 2 Northwest Mississippi 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.