SCOOBA – The fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College forced six turnovers and held East Central Community College to just 81 second-half yards of total offense while registering a 24-0 home victory over the visiting Warriors during MACJC interdivisional football action played Thursday evening at Sullivan-Windham Field.
The non-division blanking marked EMCC's 23rd shutout during the Buddy Stephens coaching era and extended the Lions' current seven-year home winning streak to 36 consecutive games dating back to the start of the 2013 season.
Going up against an ECCC defensive unit that was coming off back-to-back shutout wins over Southwest Mississippi and Pearl River the previous two weeks, the Lions scored on their first two possessions against the Warriors to take an early 10-0 lead. Following an initial nine-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Josh Smith at the 12:23 mark, a subsequent three-and-out forced by EMCC then led to a quick four-play, 63-yard drive that produced a 32-yard scoring strike from transfer quarterback Connor Neville to sophomore wide receiver Jason Brownlee with 8:47 remaining in the first quarter.
The score remained 10-0 until late in the second quarter when Neville found Brownlee at the 10-yard line, who then cut inside and bolted untouched into the end zone for his second touchdown reception of the game and sixth of the season. Smith's successful point-after-touchdown attempt capped the Lions' nine-play, 42-yard scoring drive to make it a 17-0 contest with 1:39 left in the opening half.
The Warriors did manage to approach the red zone during the final minute, but Holman Edwards' pass was picked off by sophomore CJ Terrell in the end zone on the last play of the half.
Coming out of intermission, the scoreless third quarter primarily consisted of both teams trading unrewarded long drives that came up empty on the first missed field goals of the year by the respective placekickers. The Lions took their opening possession of the second half 55 yards on a dozen plays before Smith's 28-yard field goal attempt sailed left with 8:41 left in the quarter. East Central countered with an 11-play, 64-yard drive that consumed nearly six minutes on the game clock but ended with Robens Beauplan's missed 33-yard field goal try at the 2:48 mark.
Following a relatively uneventful third quarter of play, the mistake-plagued final period featured a combined seven turnovers between the two teams, including three miscues on successive plays to begin the quarter. The back-and-forth action started with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that came to a halt when EMCC freshman running back Zias Perryman's fumble on a second-and-goal play from the 4-yard line was recovered in the end zone by East Central.
On the next play from scrimmage, EMCC's Fred Hervey stripped JD Martin of the football and fellow sophomore linebacker EJ Woods pounced on it for his second fumble recovery of the game. However, on the very next play, Neville's pass attempt to Brownlee in the end zone was intercepted by Desmond Williams.
After forcing another three-and-out on defense, the Lions came right back to threaten again offensively with freshman quarterback Jamari Jones under center. Seven plays into a 78-yard drive, Jones connected with Brownlee, who then lost control of the football while attempting to leap over an ECCC defender on his way to the right corner of the end zone. The resulting touchback call was immediately followed by the beginning of a 10-minute stretch where EMCC freshman cornerback Kel Williams intercepted three Holman passes to help lock down the shutout victory with a dominant fourth quarter by the Lions' vaunted defense.
Though Williams' first two picks didn't produce any points on offense, the Lions rebounded from an unsuccessful fourth-down attempt within the red zone by converting the Starkville product's third interception of the quarter into the game's final score on Perryman's 3-yard touchdown burst at the 3:03 mark. Williams' three picks on the night were the most by an EMCC player since Justin Cox intercepted three passes during the Lions' 34-30 season-opening win over Mississippi Gulf Coast in the first game played at the current site of Sullivan-Windham Field in 2011.
Statistically for the game, East Mississippi generated 488 yards of total offense with 311 yards through the air and 177 via the ground. The Warriors managed 193 yards of total offense (113 passing & 80 rushing) but were limited to only 45 passing yards and just 36 rushing yards during the second half of play.
Individually for the winners, Neville finished the contest completing 23-of-36 passes for 276 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Lions' top aerial target was Brownlee with a career-high 10 receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns. The West Point product now has three 100-yard receiving games on the year and has caught a touchdown in all five contests. EMCC's leading ground-gainers on the night were Perryman and sophomore Keon Moore with 74 and 67 rushing yards, respectively.
For the night, EMCC and ECCC combined for 10 total turnovers in the contest. The Lions lost two fumbles and had a pair of passes intercepted to go along with the two fumbles they recovered and four interceptions they picked off.
Coach Stephens' 4-1 EMCC Lions (2-0 in division play) resume MACJC North Division action by playing host to the third-ranked Rangers of Northwest Mississippi Community College in a Thursday night (Oct. 3) divisional showdown. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.