SCOOBA – At the midway point of the MACJC's regular-season football schedule, the fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College are set to wrap up the non-division portion of this year's slate by playing host to East Central Community College Thursday evening on the Scooba campus. Kickoff for the interdivisional gridiron battle is set for 7 p.m. at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.
The 3-1 EMCC Lions are unbeaten during the month of September with home wins over Pearl River (49-15) and Itawamba (48-3) preceding last week's 41-23 MACJC North Division road victory over Mississippi Delta. The Lions' season-opening 24-16 setback at now-No. 16 Hinds snapped their 17-game winning streak that had dated back to the 2017 season.
Averaging 46 points per outing during the team's current three-game win string, EMCC is currently ranked sixth nationally in scoring offense with an MACJC-leading average of 38.5 points per game on the season. The Lions also entered the week rated second among the NJCAA's team statistical leaders in both total offense and passing offense with averages of 508.3 total yards and 354.3 passing yards per contest.
Individually, EMCC sophomore quarterback Connor Neville (Beaverton, OR) presently ranks second nationally with an average of 291.3 passing yards per game and is tied for sixth with an MACJC-best 10 touchdown passes through the season's first four contests. The Washington State transfer also stands seventh among the NJCAA's statistical leaders in pass completion percentage by having connected on 91-of-141 (64.5%) of his aerials this year.
East Mississippi features five receivers with double-digit catches on the season, including three players ranked among the NJCAA's top 20 in receptions. Sophomore Jason Brownlee (West Point) stands ninth nationally with 23 catches along with ranking sixth with an average of 99.8 receiving yards per game and 19th with an average of 17.3 yards per grab. Fellow sophomores Pervis Frazier (Louisville) and Austin Morphis (Pontotoc) are tied for 10th and 18th among the NJCAA leaders with 22 and 19 receptions, respectively. For the season, a dozen EMCC players have caught at least one pass, including eight receivers with at least one touchdown catch.
On the ground, the Lions feature the three-pronged rushing attack comprised of sophomore Keon Moore (Harrison Central HS) along with freshmen Zias Perryman (Laurel) and Hamm McGee (St. Martin HS) that combine to average 133 rushing yards per contest. Moore currently leads the way with 209 total rushing yards on the year, while Perryman follows close behind with 190 yards on the heels of his season-best, 94-yard outing at Mississippi Delta a week ago. McGee has 133 rushing yards and leads the team with three touchdowns via the ground.
Defensively, the Lions have combined for 34 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a team for the year, including 16 quarterback sacks divided among 10 different players, along with four pass interceptions. Individually, sophomore linebacker Fred Hervey (Charleston) tops EMCC's defenders with 26 total tackles and four quarterback sacks on the season. Freshman linebackers Jasper Williams (Grenada) and DeShawn Page (Knoxville, TN) follow with 19 total stops apiece for the Lions.
Guided by seventh-year head coach Ken Karcher, the East Central Warriors are also 3-1 this season with a current three-game winning streak. After dropping a season-opening 26-13 home decision to now-No. 3 Northwest Mississippi, ECCC has since knocked off Itawamba (34-14) along with having posted shutout victories over Southwest Mississippi (19-0) and Pearl River (35-0). On the strength of their back-to-back shutout wins the previous two weeks, the Warriors are currently ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense while surrendering an average of only 10 points per outing.
Sporting an overall head coaching record of 113-14 (.890) in his 12th season with the EMCC Lions, Buddy Stephens owns a 3-0 career mark against East Central. Despite the two schools being located only 55 miles apart, Stephens has faced ECCC fewer times than any other MACJC opponent during his EMCC coaching career. Following a five-year hiatus in this traditional football rivalry, the visiting top-ranked Lions escaped Bailey Stadium a year ago (Sept. 27) with a hard-fought 24-21 road victory over No. 20 East Central on Josh Smith's game-winning, 19-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in the contest. Special teams played a crucial role in EMCC's narrow victory a season ago in Decatur, as the Lions returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in addition to having blocked a field goal attempt and a PAT try down the stretch. The Warriors also failed to connect on two other PAT attempts during last year's contest. Previous EMCC-ECCC gridiron matchups resulted in commanding Lion victories during the 2012 (51-7 in Decatur) and 2013 (59-0 in Scooba) seasons.
East Mississippi enters Thursday's contest against East Central riding a 35-game home winning streak that dates back to the start of the 2013 campaign. The Lions are now 45-1 in home games (37-0 during regular-season play) contested at the current site of Sullivan-Windham Field since the facility opened in 2011.
Thursday's EMCC-ECCC interdivisional contest will be broadcast live by WFCA-FM (107.9), out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Anthony Craven 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.