Off to their best start since 1974, coach Buddy Stephens’ 4-1 East Mississippi Lions have earned their first appearance in the NJCAA/JCFootball.com Top 20 poll since 1996 with this week’s No. 20 national ranking.
Headed by Navarro College of Texas and Utah’s Snow College, this week’s NJCAA/JCFootball.com Top 20 features five Mississippi schools. Along with EMCC’s No. 20 ranking with 11 points, the current national poll also showcases third-ranked Jones County at No. 3, seventh-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast, No. 10-ranked Pearl River and Mississippi Delta at 19th.
Preparing for Saturday’s key divisional Homecoming contest against the Coahoma Tigers, EMCC is 4-1 overall and 2-0 in North Division play, while riding a three-game winning streak after last week’s 27-19 home triumph over Northwest Mississippi. Coahoma enters Saturday’s 2 p.m. contest at Sullivan-Windham Field tied with EMCC atop the North standings at 2-0 and 3-1 overall on the year.
Bidding for their first winning season since 1998, the Lions began their current three-game win string by claiming a convincing 52-14 road win over Holmes on Sept. 11. EMCC followed up with a dramatic 27-23 comeback road victory over defending national co-champion Mississippi Gulf Coast two weeks ago in Perkinston. East Mississippi’s lone setback on the year came by way of a hard-fought 23-19 loss at now-No. 3 Jones County during the second week of the season.
As a team with freshman quarterback Randall Mackey at the controls, the Lions statistically rank second nationally in passing offense (287 yards per game) and total offense (446.6 yards per game). Defensively, EMCC stands 12th nationally and second in the MACJC team rankings behind Pearl River in team passing defense (125.6 yards per game).
Individually, Mackey of Port Sulphur, La., tops the NJCAA statistical leaders in passing (263 yards per game) and total offense (318.8 yards per game). The 2007 PARADE All-American from Bastrop (La.) High School has completed 97-of-163 passes (59.5%) for 1,315 yards and nine touchdowns on the year, while also having rushed 43 times for 279 yards and three scores.
The Lions feature five receivers with 14 or more catches for the season, including Starkville’s Mike Outlaw and Montrez Mosley of Meridian with 23 and 21 receptions, respectively, for 645 yards between them. On the ground, former Starkville High School standout Pat Shed rates fourth among the MACJC leaders in rushing (81.8 yards per game) and scoring by non-kickers (7.2 points per game).
Also rated 23rd nationally in this week’s J.C. Grid-Wire team rankings, East Mississippi is currently ranked nationally in football for the first time since being listed at No. 15 in the Nov. 12, 1996 national poll by the NJCAA. Coach Tom Goode’s 1996 EMCC club finished 8-2 on the season, but did not qualify for the state playoffs and was not ranked in the season-ending poll.