SCOOBA – The sixth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College are set to open their MACJC North Division football slate Thursday by playing host to Itawamba Community College on the Scooba campus. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.
After having their 17-game winning streak snapped by dropping a 24-16 season-opening road decision to Hinds two weeks ago in Raymond, the EMCC Lions bounced back with a solid 49-15 victory over Pearl River in their home opener last week in Scooba. The win over the Wildcats extended EMCC's current home win string to 34 consecutive games dating back to the start of the 2013 season. The Lions are now 44-1 in home games (36-0 during regular season) played at the current site of Sullivan-Windham Field since the facility opened in 2011.
Rebounding from their 16-point offensive effort in their season-opening loss at Hinds, the Lions compiled 612 yards of total offense (456 passing & 156 rushing) during their 34-point home win over Pearl River. For his efforts a week ago, EMCC sophomore quarterback Connor Neville (Beaverton, OR) earned MACJC Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for 358 yards and four touchdowns on 24-of-42 passing against the Wildcats. The Washington State transfer is currently ranked fourth among NJCAA leaders in passing yards per game (316.5 yds/gm) and tied for eighth nationally with six touchdown passes on the young season.
On the receiving end for the year, 11 different EMCC players have caught a pass through the first two games. Sophomore Pervis Frazier (Louisville) is tied for 12th among the national leaders with a team-high 14 receptions, while fellow sophomore Jason Brownlee (West Point) is tied for ninth in the NJCAA with an average of 92.5 receiving yards per game. Brownlee has caught 10 passes on the year for 185 yards and two touchdowns, including an 87-yard catch and run against PRCC that ranks as EMCC's second-longest pass reception of the Buddy Stephens coaching era.
East Mississippi's ground game has thus far been led by sophomore Keon Moore (Harrison Central HS) with 97 rushing yards on 26 attempts through the first two games. Freshmen Hamm McGee (St. Martin HS) and Zias Perryman (Laurel) follow with 63 and 47 rushing yards, respectively, on the year.
Defensively, the Lions have combined for 22 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a team, including nine quarterback sacks, along with three pass interceptions. Individually, sophomore defensive end Terrence Cherry (West Point) owns three sacks for 26 total yards lost and has already forced three fumbles.
Guided by sixth-year head coach Sean Cannon, Itawamba is 0-2 on the young season after dropping a 35-31 season-opening decision at home to Pearl River and then falling, 34-14, on the road to East Central last week in Decatur. ICC sophomore quarterback Clark Mills currently leads the NJCAA with an average of 343 passing yards per game while having attempted 96 passes (51 completions) through the first two weeks. The Indians' leading ground-gainer on the year is sophomore Hiram Wadlington with 175 rushing yards on 29 carries. Sophomore Qua Tucker and freshman Barry Flowers rate as ICC's double-digit receivers with 13 and 11 catches, respectively, for the season.
Sporting an overall head coaching record of 111-14 (.888) in his 12th season with the EMCC Lions, Stephens owns a 10-1 career mark versus Itawamba (4-0 in Scooba, 5-1 in Fulton & 1-0 in West Point). A year ago (Sept. 13) in Fulton, EMCC and ICC engaged in another offensive showdown as the visiting Lions pulled away for a 56-26 victory. Last year's division opener featured more than 1,000 yards of total offense along with producing 53 first downs and 82 total points between the two teams. Over the last four EMCC-ICC gridiron meetings dating back to 2015, the two teams have combined to score an average of 78 points per game between them. The Lions won at home by identical 48-24 scores in 2015 and 2017 along with earning a narrow 44-42 road victory over the Indians in 2016.
Under Stephens' guidance, the EMCC Lions have amassed a composite 62-4 (.939) record in MACJC North Division regular-season contests as nine-time divisional champions (2008-09, 2011-16 & 2018). The reigning national and state champions have gone unbeaten in regular-season division play eight times during the previous 11 seasons. EMCC's most recent divisional setbacks came two years ago at Northwest Mississippi and at Itawamba during the 2012 regular-season finale. The only other two division defeats of the Stephens era both came at home to Northwest Mississippi and Northeast Mississippi during the Lions' 2010 campaign (5-5 overall & 4-2 MACJC North) that marked the team's last season playing at the previous Sullivan-Windham Field site on the Scooba campus.
Thursday's EMCC-ICC division 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.