SCOOBA – It all came down to the final football game of the MACJC regular season, but the 14th-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College made it well worth the wait by earning the No. 2 seed in the MACJC's North Division standings with a 30-22 homecoming victory over Northeast Mississippi Community College during Saturday's conference action played at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.
On the heels of this past Thursday's MACJC North Division results that saw Holmes score an easy homecoming win over Coahoma as well as visiting Itawamba upsetting second-ranked Northwest Mississippi by a single point, EMCC's win over Northeast created a four-way tie atop the division between the Lions, Northwest, Holmes and ICC with identical 4-2 division marks. The MACJC's four-way tiebreaker enabled Northwest and EMCC to secure the division's top two seeds with respective overall records of 7-2 and 6-3.
Set to make their 11th MACJC football playoff appearance under 12th-year head coach Buddy Stephens' guidance, the three-time reigning (2016-17-18) state champion EMCC Lions will begin defense of their state title by traveling to Perkinston to face the top-ranked and unbeaten Bulldogs of Mississippi Gulf Coast on Saturday evening (Nov. 2). Kickoff for the state semifinal matchup is set for 7 p.m. at A.L. May Memorial Stadium. The other state semifinal contest will have MACJC North top seed Northwest Mississippi playing host to MACJC South runner-up Jones College on Saturday afternoon (2 p.m.) at Bobby Franklin Field in Senatobia. The MACJC championship game will be played the following Saturday (Nov. 9) at a site to be determined by this week's state semifinal results.
Saturday's regular-season finale in Scooba began with six empty possessions (three by each team) before Shavoke' Herrington's team-leading fourth interception of the year set up Josh Smith's 29-yard field goal at the 3:30 mark of the opening quarter to give EMCC an early 3-0 lead.
Following a three-and-out by Northeast, the Lions struck quickly with Keon Moore's 46-yard touchdown burst up the middle to extend their lead to 10-0 heading into the second quarter.
On the first play of the new quarter, EMCC's CJ Terrell intercepted Jack Mangel's pass for his third pick of the season. The Lions again capitalized on the miscue when Jason Brownlee grabbed a Connor Neville screen pass on a fourth-and-four play and broke free down the middle of the field for a 35-yard catch and run at the 13:09 mark to make it a 17-0 contest.
Outgaining the visiting Tigers, 284-26, in total yards during the opening half, the Lions lengthened their lead to 23-0 by capping a 10-play, 63-yard drive with backup quarterback Jamari Jones reaching the ball over the goal line from 2 yards out with 44 seconds remaining in the half.
Following the intermission, the game looked like it was turning into a rout when EMCC's Julius Coates strip-sacked Mangel and returned the fumble 22 yards for his second scoop and score in as many weeks. Smith's successful point-after-touchdown attempt extended the margin to 30-0 with 13:37 still remaining in the third quarter.
But, that was all the scoring the EMCC offense would be able to muster for the remaining of the contest, as Northeast slowly crept back into the game and eventually made it a one-possession contest late in the game. The Tigers responded to EMCC's defensive touchdown to open the second half by marching 75 yards on nine plays to get on the scoreboard with Mangel's 21-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Malone at the 9:42 mark.
With the Lions still maintaining a seemingly comfortable 30-7 lead heading into the final quarter, the visitors scored two more touchdowns over the game's last seven minutes to make things interesting down the stretch. Midway through the fourth quarter, Jay Lofton's 2-yard touchdown run capped Northeast's six-play, 69-yard drive that cut the deficit to 30-14 with 7:17 left on the game clock.
The Tigers later took advantage of a failed fourth-and-three attempt by EMCC and were then recipients of a roughing the passer penalty on their next possession. On a fourth-and-17 play, Mangel connected with Hayden Brice for a 36-yard scoring pass at the 2:21 mark. Mangel's successful two-point conversion pass play to Carson Banks made it a one-possession game at 30-22.
EMCC freshman Myles Hopson recovered the ensuing onside kick near midfield and the Lions were able to run out the remaining two minutes on the game clock by keeping the ball on the ground with four straight rushes and two kneel downs in victory formation.
Statistically for the game, East Mississippi amassed 418 yards of total offense with 222 yards through the air and 196 via the ground. Neville completed 30-of-48 aerials for those 222 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception. Moore picked up a season-high 103 rushing yards on 13 carries, including his 46-yard scoring run. On the receiving end for the winners, Brownlee and fellow sophomore Pervis Frazier hauled in a game-high seven passes each for 79 and 52 receiving yards, respectively.