BOONEVILLE – The top-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College battled a game Northeast Mississippi Community College squad and sloppy field conditions to finish the regular season at 9-0 and secure another outright MACJC North Division championship with Thursday's 26-7 road win at Tiger Stadium.
While securing their ninth division title and fourth undefeated regular season in 11 years under head coach Buddy Stephens' guidance, the reigning national and state champions will play host to the MACJC South Division runner-up Wolves of Copiah-Lincoln Community College during Saturday's (Nov. 3) MACJC state semifinals to be played on the Scooba campus. Kickoff for the Lions' postseason opener is set for 2 p.m. at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field. Saturday's other MACJC state semifinal game to be played in Ellisville will pit the MACJC South Division champion Jones Bobcats against the MACJC North Division runner-up Northwest Mississippi Rangers. The two winners will square off in the MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 championship game the following Saturday (Nov. 10) at a site to be determined by the results of the state semifinal contests.
As steady rain plagued field conditions during Thursday's regular-season finale, the two teams played to a stalemate for the opening 10 minutes of the contest. The visitors broke through by capping a six-play, 46-yard drive with a 9-yard scoring keeper by Michigan State transfer quarterback Messiah deWeaver. The point-after-touchdown attempt was fumbled to keep the score at 6-0 with 5:17 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Tigers seemingly took advantage of a mishandled punt snap by EMCC midway through the second quarter when Northeast quarterback Reed Collins found offensive lineman Matthew Trehern for an apparent 10-yard scoring pass play at the 6:44 mark. However, the touchdown was nullified on an illegal touching call by the officials.
Following suit on their next possession, the Lions had their apparent 85-yard scoring screen pass play from deWeaver to running back Deon McIntosh called back due to a holding penalty. The consecutive nullified touchdown passes by each team kept the score at 6-0 heading into halftime.
The second half began with an 81-yard kickoff return by Northeast's D'Jordan Strong, though EMCC's vaunted defense kept the Tigers out of the end zone following a first-and-goal opportunity beginning at the 4-yard line. The Tigers responded with a three-and-out defensively and then took the lead at the 10:12 mark on an 8-yard touchdown toss from Collins to Kortlon Hubbard and a resulting successful PAT attempt.
After recovering from a high snap from center on a punt attempt midway through the third quarter and keeping Northeast from adding to its slim lead, the Lions regained the advantage on a seven-play, 80-yard drive late in the period. Adrian Miller was on the receiving end of a 29-yard scoring pass, while deWeaver added the two-point conversion via the ground to put EMCC back on top, 14-7, with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter.
As the field conditions worsened due to the steady, day-long drizzle, both teams continued to struggle with turnovers throughout the second half. The Lions managed to take advantage of a pair of Northeast fumbles on successive possessions late in the contest to pull away with their 14th consecutive victory dating back to last year.
First, sophomore nose guard Kane Taylor made it a 20-7 contest with 4:16 left in the game by scoring from 39 yards out on Sirmarcus Evans' fumble. On Northeast's ensuing offensive possession, EMCC's Jeremiah Braziel jumped on a fumble at midfield and on the next play from scrimmage EMCC freshman running back Keon Moore bolted 50 yards up the middle to account for the final 26-7 margin.
Moore, out of Harrison Central High School, finished the rainy evening with a season-high 126 rushing yards on 13 attempts.