SCOOBA – Looking to rebound from their first setback since the 2017 campaign, the fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College are set to open their home football slate Thursday by playing host to the Pearl River Community College Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.
While being held to their lowest regular-season scoring output of the Buddy Stephens coaching era during last week's season-opening 24-16 loss at Hinds, the EMCC Lions had their 17-game winning streak snapped that had dated back to the last five games of their 2017 national championship season and continued throughout last year's second straight and fifth overall NJCAA title-winning campaign. East Mississippi's string of consecutive polls being ranked as the NJCAA's top-ranked team also ended at 17 after falling to No. 5 in this year's initial regular-season poll. The Lions had stood atop the national poll since the 2017 postseason.
Additionally, for the first time since 2009, the top four teams in this year's preseason NJCAA football poll (EMCC, Iowa Western, Garden City & Jones) all lost prior to the release of the first regular-season poll. In this year's initial NJCAA weekly poll, EMCC is the highest ranked one-loss team at No. 5 and currently stands behind new No. 1 Hutchinson, Kilgore, Butler and Northwest Mississippi.
Offensively for EMCC a week ago at Hinds, Washington State transfer quarterback Connor Neville threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-44 passing in his collegiate debut. However, the Beaverton, Oregon native was intercepted three times, including the game-deciding pick-six with less than three minutes left in the contest. Sophomore Pervis Frazier (Louisville) was Neville's top target on the night with eight receptions for 50 yards. Jason Brownlee (West Point) and Zach Patterson (Corinth) followed with five catches apiece for 50 and 44 receiving yards, respectively. On the ground, sophomore Keon Moore (Harrison Central HS) ran for 61 yards on 15 carries.
EMCC's first loss since dropping a 61-38 decision at 10th-ranked Northwest Mississippi on Oct. 12, 2017 also marked just the sixth setback in the last 92 games for the Lions dating back to their initial national championship season (2011) and only the 14th defeat overall in 124 decisions spanning back to Stephens' first season (2008) at the East Mississippi football helm. During the Stephens era, the Lions are 10-3 coming off losses and have only dropped successive decisions twice. The 2010 EMCC squad lost the first three games of the season but rallied to make the state playoffs as MACJC North Division runners-up, while the team's 2012 season ended with consecutive one-point losses at Itawamba (24-23) in the regular-season finale and the following week at home against Copiah-Lincoln (47-46) during the state semifinals.
That playoff loss to Co-Lin seven years ago (Nov. 3, 2012) continues to stand as East Mississippi's lone home loss in 44 games contested at the current site of Sullivan-Windham Field. The Lions have since prevailed in 33 consecutive home games dating back to the start of the 2013 football season.
Guided by third-year head coach Ted Egger, the Pearl River Wildcats successfully kicked off their 2019 season with a 35-31 road win over Itawamba a week ago in Fulton. Freshman quarterback Terrence Humphrey was 22-of-36 through the air for 254 yards and three touchdowns to earn MACJC Offensive Player of the Week honors, while running back Lance Stewart rushed for 89 yards on 13 attempts.
Sporting an overall head coaching record of 110-14 (.887) in his 12th season with the EMCC Lions, Stephens owns a 5-1 career mark versus Pearl River (2-1 in Scooba & 3-1 in Poplarville). A year ago (Sept. 6) at PRCC's Dobie Holden Stadium, EMCC scored 38 unanswered points to overcome an early deficit en route to posting a 59-10 road triumph over the Wildcats. The decisive victory over PRCC last season also marked Stephens' 100th career collegiate coaching win.
Prior to being hired as EMCC's head football coach in December 2007, Stephens spent the previous seven seasons (2001-07) as an assistant coach at Pearl River CC when the Wildcats posted a composite record of 60-12 (.833), including an NJCAA championship in 2004 and four consecutive MACJC state titles (2003-06). He was also a two-year offensive lineman at PRCC before completing his collegiate playing career at Delta State.
Thursday's EMCC-PRCC home opener 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. The Lions' 2019 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.