SCOOBA – The top-ranked and reigning national champion Lions of East Mississippi Community College have earned a shot at winning their third consecutive MACJC state football championship and seventh state title under head coach Buddy Stephens by claiming a 31-7 home victory over 16th-ranked Copiah-Lincoln Community College during Saturday's MACJC state semifinals played at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.
The two-time defending state champion and unbeaten EMCC Lions (10-0) will travel to Ellisville on Saturday (Nov. 10) to take on the sixth-ranked and MACJC South Division champion Jones College Bobcats (9-1) for the 2018 MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Championship. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium/Sim Cooley Field on the JC campus.
Saturday's semifinal against Co-Lin began with EMCC's 11-play, 86-yard drive that culminated with Messiah deWeaver's 21-yard scoring pass to Dontario Drummond at the 10:53 mark of the first quarter. With deWeaver hitting all eight of his pass attempts for 77 yards on the game's opening possession, Drummond's ninth touchdown reception of the season and 19th of his EMCC career capped off the Lions' efficient, four-minute drive.
The Lions then capitalized on freshman linebacker EJ Woods' first collegiate pass interception to set up their second score of the half midway through the second quarter. After gaining possession near midfield, EMCC stayed mostly on the ground on an eight-play, 48-yard scoring drive that was capped by TyQuan Ulmer's 4-yard keeper at the 7:17 mark.
While also misfiring on a 32-yard field goal attempt earlier in the half, the Lions fell short on another scoring opportunity at the end of the first half. EMCC drove to the 3-yard line during the closing seconds of the half, but a false start penalty and an incomplete pass as the clock ran out kept the score at 14-0 heading into intermission.
Coming out of the break, East Mississippi's vaunted defense, ranked second in the NJCAA in scoring defense entering the game, set the tone for the second half. Forcing Co-Lin into a three and out to open the half after consecutive quarterback sacks by Everitt Cunningham and Eriq Kitchen, the Lions closed out an 11-play drive with a 19-yard field goal by Josh Smith to make it a 17-0 contest with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.
Highlighted by a 42-yard, tackle-breaking catch and run by Julian Conner from deWeaver, the Lions later capped a nine-play, 70-yard drive with Keon Moore's 3-yard scoring burst at the 1:52 mark to extend the margin to 24-0 heading to the final quarter.
EMCC's bid at securing the program's first postseason shutout of the Stephens era was denied midway through the fourth quarter when Co-Lin quarterback Hayden Davis connected with DeMartre Collins on a 17-yard touchdown toss at the 6:51 mark.
The Lions then essentially ran out the remaining time on the game clock by staying on the ground with seven consecutive rushes during their final drive of the contest. The game-ending drive went 57 yards in nine plays and was capped by Deon McIntosh barreling 16 yards up the middle with only 52 seconds left in the game for his 16th rushing touchdown of the season.
McIntosh, a transfer running back from Notre Dame, notched his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the year by finishing with 105 yards and the one score on 22 carries.
Through the air, deWeaver, a transfer from Michigan State, was 28-of-34 for 275 passing yards and a touchdown. His top target on the day with Drummond, who hauled in seven passes for 84 yards plus a 21-yard scoring grab in the opening quarter.
As a team statistically on the afternoon, EMCC more than doubled the visiting Wolves in total offense yards, 435-200. The Lions' dominant defensive front helped hold Co-Lin to just 34 rushing yards on 28 attempts for the game, including eight quarterback sacks for a loss of 47 total yards.
Having claimed back-to-back MACJC state football championships the past two years and consecutively in 2013 and 2014 as well as previously in 2011 and 2009, the EMCC Lions are bidding to become the first MACJC school to win as many as three straight state football titles since Pearl River earned four consecutive state crowns from 2003 through 2006. Stephens was the offensive line coach for the PRCC Wildcats during their previous MACJC title run before being hired as EMCC's head football coach in December 2007.