SCOOBA – The sixth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College connected on three scoring passes during the first four minutes and 26 seconds of Thursday's MACJC North Division opener on the way to cruising to a commanding 48-3 home victory over Itawamba Community College at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.
With reigning MACJC Offensive Player of the Week Connor Neville completing his first 12 pass attempts on the night, the Lions struck on the game's second play from scrimmage when the Washington State transfer found sophomore receiver Austin Morphis (Pontotoc) near the right sideline for a 58-yard catch and run 43 seconds into the contest.
Following a three-and-out by ICC, Neville tossed a perfectly timed 51-yard scoring strike to sophomore Pervis Frazier (Louisville) on the first play of EMCC's second offensive possession to quickly make it a 14-0 game with 13:18 remaining in the quarter.
EMCC's game-opening offensive surge continued following another three-and-out by the visitors. This time, three Neville-to-Morphis connections and a pair of runs by freshman Hamm McGee (St. Martin HS) led to a 33-yard touchdown toss from Neville to sophomore receiver Rashad Eades (Noxubee County HS) to the back left corner of the end zone. The third scoring pass from Neville in EMCC's first nine scrimmage plays of the game extended the margin to 21-0 with 10:34 still left in the quarter.
The scoring pace slowed somewhat after the initial offensive explosion by the reigning national and state champions. On the heels of another three-and-out forced by EMCC's vaunted defensive unit, sophomore kicker Josh Smith (Tupelo) capped an eight-play, 43-yard drive with a 25-yard field goal at the 2:25 mark to give the Lions a 24-0 advantage after the opening quarter.
The Indians managed their lone score of the night after stopping EMCC on a fourth-and-two play inside the 10-yard line. ICC proceeded to drive 82 yards on 11 plays before kicker Skylar Grissom booted a 26-yard field goal at the 9:38 mark.
With freshman quarterback Jamari Jones behind center for EMCC during the second quarter, the Northwest Rankin High School product engineered back-to-back, quick-hitting scoring drives one minute apart that essentially put the contest out of reach prior to intermission. A run-dominated, 75-yard drive in just five plays, ignited by carries of 16 and 30 yards by sophomore running back Keon Moore (Harrison Central HS), was capped by Laurel native Zias Perryman's 17-yard scoring jaunt to the left pylon to stretch the margin to 31-3 with 7:40 left in the first half.
On the heels of their defense forcing another three-and-out, the Lions' quick-strike offensive clinic continued when Jones scrambled right and located sophomore Jason Brownlee (West Point) downfield a minute later for a 66-yard touchdown connection at the 6:39 mark to lengthen the lead to 38-3.
In closing the first half with three straight three-and-outs following ICC's field goal, the Lions moved the ball 65 yards on eight plays to set up Smith's 24-yard field goal with 1:34 remaining in the half. The 41-3 halftime score put the MACJC's mandated 38-point mercy rule into effect for the second half of play.
Along with outgaining ICC, 470-123, in total offensive yards during the first half, EMCC's stingy defense limited the Indians to four plays or less on eight of their nine first-half drives.
While a running clock was utilized for the entire second half, each team only managed three offensive possessions during a swift-moving final half of play. Following Shavoke' Herrington's (Natchez) second pass interception of the young season coming late during a scoreless third quarter, the Lions went 46 yards on seven plays for the game's final points. McGee was rewarded for his 19-yard run earlier in the drive with a 1-yard scoring burst at the 13:24 mark. Smith's sixth successful point-after-touchdown attempt on the night in as many tries concluded the night's scoring.
Offensively for the winners as they extended their seven-year home winning streak to 35 consecutive games, Neville threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns on 12-of-14 passing before leaving the game late in the first quarter. Jones picked up where Neville left off by going 10-of-14 through the air for 142 yards and a touchdown.
On the receiving end for the home-standing Lions, Morphis enjoyed a career night with eight catches for 112 yards while Brownlee had six grabs for 121 receiving yards.
Along with 365 passing yards on the evening, EMCC ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against ICC. Moore led the way with 81 rushing yards on a dozen carries.
Coach Buddy Stephens' 2-1 EMCC Lions continue division play by traveling to Moorhead to take on the Trojans of Mississippi Delta Community College on Thursday (Sept. 19). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Jim Randall Stadium on the MDCC campus.