GOODMAN – In an offensive slugfest that featured 1,005 yards of total offense, 91 total points scored and 49 first downs combined between the two teams, the eighth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College let a 14-0 first-half lead slip away in dropping a 49-42 road decision to Holmes Community College during Thursday night's MACJC North Division football action played at Ras Branch Field.
Playing for a possible berth in next month's MACJC state playoffs, the visiting Lions got on the board first with a game-opening, 65-yard drive that was capped by freshman Zias Perryman's 2-yard run to the right pylon at the 11:41 mark. The seven-play drive was sparked by a 40-yard pass completion from transfer quarterback Connor Neville to sophomore receiver Pervis Frazier on the game's first pass attempt.
The two teams traded turnovers to set up EMCC's second score of the contest. With Holmes approaching the red zone, sophomore linebacker Fred Hervey picked up Devontaye Bankston's fumble and returned the ball 27 yards to midfield. Four plays later, freshman running back Hamm McGee scored up the middle from 6 yards out on the first play of the second quarter to give the visitors a 14-0 lead.
On their first possession of the second quarter, the Bulldogs took advantage of Dylan Kelly's 42-yard kickoff return to get on the scoreboard with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kyren Batey to Caleb Ducking at the 12:51 mark.
Following a three-and-out by EMCC, Holmes showcased its famed triple-option offense by churning out 54 yards on 10 consecutive running plays to knot the score. Bankston made amends for his earlier fumble by barreling in from 2 yards out to make it a 14-14 contest with 4:09 remaining in the first half.
The visitors responded by reclaiming the lead on their next possession late in the opening half. Aided by a 27-yard run from sophomore Keon Moore, the Lions drove 65 yards on seven plays to move ahead, 21-14, on Perryman's tough 4-yard effort into the end zone with 1:15 left before halftime.
Following the intermission, the Bulldogs went back to work by scoring on their first three possessions of the second half to take their first lead of the contest. To begin the half with Tytus Heard at the controls behind center, Terry Bryant busted up the middle on a 44-yard fullback dive play to the end zone at the 12:29 mark to produce the game's second deadlock.
A three-and-out on EMCC's opening possession of the second half then led to a nine-play, 62-yard drive by Holmes - again all on the ground - that was capped by Kelly scoring on an 8-yard pitch from Heard to the right side. With their third of six rushing touchdowns on the night, the Bulldogs grabbed their first lead of the contest, 28-21, with 5:23 left in the third quarter.
The Lions answered efficiently on the ensuing possession with a 16-yard run by McGee mixed in with seven straight pass completions by Neville. Marching 93 yards on eight plays, EMCC closed out the third-quarter scoring for the game's third tie when Neville connected with sophomore receiver Rashad Eades on a 28-yard catch and run to the end zone at the 2:40 mark.
The two teams traded scores to begin the prolific fourth quarter that produced 35 combined points. After Bryant ran up the gut for a 6-yard score to cap an eight-play, 61-yard drive for Holmes at the 12:49 mark, the Lions evened the score for the fourth time on a perfectly timed 12-yard scoring strike to sophomore Jason Brownlee in the back right corner of the end zone with eight minutes remaining in the contest. The eight-play, 59-yard drive by EMCC was extended by a clutch fourth-and-five pass play from Neville to freshman Zach Patterson and then set up three plays later by Neville's third-down, 23-yard completion to sophomore Austin Morphis over the middle to the 12-yard line.
East Mississippi's momentum was quickly stymied, however, as Batey pitched left to Martavius Dill for a 66-yard scoring scamper on the next play from scrimmage to put the Bulldogs back on top, 42-35, midway through the final quarter.
After EMCC turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession, Holmes went ahead by two touchdowns with another long scoring play when Kelly took a third-and-21 pitch from Batey and raced 50 yards down the right sideline to give the home team a 49-35 lead with 5:23 left on the game clock.
The Lions' quick-strike offensive attack was put to the test over the game's final five minutes. First, Neville proceeded to direct an eight-play, 73-yard scoring drive that was extended with a fourth-and-10 completion to Brownlee and then capped by a 29-yard connection between the two playmakers at the 3:03 mark.
EMCC's defense then held tight by forcing a Holmes punt to give the visitors one final opportunity in the one-possession contest. Faced with 84 yards ahead of them and exactly one minute remaining on the game clock, the Lions bounced back from an opening-play sack to reach the 38-yard line primarily on the strength of five Neville-to-Brownlee completions down the stretch. However, one final pass attempt was knocked down by Bulldog defenders in front of Brownlee around the 5-yard line to seal Holmes' first football victory over East Mississippi since the 2005 season.
The seven-point setback, coupled with last week's 56-36 home loss to now-No. 2 Northwest Mississippi, marked the first time since 2012 that EMCC has dropped back-to-back decisions.
Statistically in the offensive showdown, EMCC narrowly outgained Holmes, 520-485, in total offense yardage with the Lions airing it out for 429 passing yards and the Bulldogs pounding out 420 rushing yards. Neville, a transfer from Washington State, had a career night for the Lions with 38-of-49 passing for those 429 yards and three touchdowns. Brownlee, out of West Point, was Neville's top target again with a career-best 12 catches for 140 yards along with two touchdowns for the third consecutive game.
Coach Buddy Stephens' EMCC Lions, now 4-3 overall and 2-2 in MACJC North Division play, travel to Clarksdale on Thursday (Oct. 17) to take on the Tigers of Coahoma Community College. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at James E. Miller Stadium on the CCC campus.