CLARKSDALE – The 17th-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College snapped a two-game losing skid by claiming a 55-20 MACJC North Division victory over Coahoma Community College in their final regular-season road action Thursday night at James E. Miller Stadium.
On the way to posting their single-game high for points scored this season, the Lions opened the game's scoring by taking advantage of a Fred Hervey pass interception deep in Coahoma territory on the game's second play from scrimmage. Despite going three-and-out following the takeaway, EMCC took the early 3-0 lead on Josh Smith's 29-yard field goal at the 13:23 mark of the opening quarter.
On their second possession, the visitors methodically marched 90 yards on 11 plays to make it a 10-0 contest on Connor Neville's well-executed, 25-yard touchdown toss to Jason Brownlee in the back right corner of the end zone with 7:13 remaining in the quarter.
The home-standing Tigers responded on their next possession by getting on the scoreboard when quarterback Joseph Johnson connected with former EMCC receiver Kalem Reddix on a 58-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Johnson's successful two-point conversion pass play to Sammy Carter Jr. cut the deficit to 10-8 with 5:45 left in quarter.
EMCC's disruptive special teams play then began to make an impact on the game's momentum. The first of two consecutive partially blocked punts by the Lions set up excellent field position at the 36-yard line. On his sixth rush of the seven-play drive, freshman Zias Perryman punched it in from a yard out to increase the lead to 17-8 heading into the second quarter.
Following a three-and-out possession forced by the EMCC defense, Tyler Rupert's partially blocked punt off Walter Taylor's foot was scooped up by Shavoke' Herrington for a 30-yard touchdown return to make it 24-8 with 13:31 left in the second quarter.
Back-to-back turnovers on consecutive plays then worked in East Mississippi's favor. After EMCC backup quarterback Jamari Jones fumbled inside the red zone attempting to make a play, the Tigers reciprocated the favor with a bad snap from center on the next play. The loose ball was kicked and batted around by a couple of Lion defenders before Ole Miss transfer Kevontae' Ruggs fell on the ball in the end zone at the 10:25 mark to extend the margin to 31-8.
The Lions closed out the first-half scoring by taking advantage of freshman running back Hamm McGee's consecutive rushes of 12, 6 and 49 yards to the 3-yard line. EMCC settled for a 22-yard field goal by Smith with three minutes remaining in the half to put the visitors on top, 34-8, heading into intermission.
Coming out of the break, the Lions fumbled inside the red zone on their opening drive of the second half. Coahoma took advantage of the turnover with Johnson's 95-yard catch and run to Carter to cut the deficit to 34-14 with 11:17 remaining in the third quarter.
EMCC's defense answered again later in the quarter when Julius Coates stripped Tahj Tolbert on a quarterback sack and then rumbled 26 yards to pay dirt with the fumble recovery. Coates' scoop and score lengthened the lead to 41-14 with 5:14 left in the quarter.
The Tigers responded one last time by going on a 10-play, 56-yard scoring drive that was capped by Johnson's 2-yard keeper during the final seconds of the third quarter.
The visitors kept Coahoma off the scoreboard while also staying primarily on the ground with the football during the final quarter. Early in the period, Da'Vontae McCrae's forced fumble was recovered by Tredarius Carr to give the Lions a short field to work with starting at the 33-yard line. Subsequent runs of 23 and 10 yards by Perryman upped the advantage to 48-20 with 13:14 remaining in the contest.
The Lions then reached their single-game scoring high of 55 points on Kameron Martin's 36-yard touchdown run at the 9:26 mark. Smith's seventh successful point-after-touchdown attempt in as many tries on the night accounted for the game's final 35-point victory margin.
Statistically on the evening, EMCC outgained Coahoma, 426- 279, in total offense. The Lions racked up a season-high 268 rushing yards as a team, led by McGee and Keon Moore with 76 and 75 yards on the ground, respectively. Perryman finished with 67 rushing yards and two scores.
Defensively, the Lions combined for 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for 53 total yards lost, including seven quarterback sacks. As a result, EMCC limited the Tigers to -29 net rushing yards for the game.
Coach Buddy Stephens' 5-3 EMCC Lions, 3-2 in MACJC North Division play, will close out their 2019 regular-season slate by playing host to the Tigers of Northeast Mississippi Community College on Saturday, Oct. 26, during homecoming weekend on the Scooba campus. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field. Along with members of the Lions' 2009 MACJC state championship team being invited back to campus for the game, EMCC's 2019 Sports Hall of Fame induction class will be recognized during halftime festivities.