EMCC Eyes Pearl River

Set to host a state football playoff game for the first time in school history, the eighth-ranked East Mississippi Lions (8-1) will entertain the 12th-ranked Wildcats of Pearl River (7-2) in Saturday’s opening round of the 2008 MACJC football playoffs on the Scooba campus. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field.

Tickets for Saturday’s EMCC-PRCC playoff battle will be available for purchase the day of the game at a cost of $10 for adults and $5 for students. Tailgating for the first-round playoff contest will run from 10 a.m. until game time at Aust Hall. As a special attraction, student artwork, including those from EMCC student-athletes, will be on display inside Aust Hall as well as on the lawn of the building. For those fans not able to attend the playoff contest in Scooba, the game’s broadcast can be heard via audio streaming on EMCC’s athletics website – athletics.eastms.edu.

In leading the North Division Champion Lions to the school’s first state football playoff appearance since 1984, first-year EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens spent the previous seven seasons as an assistant coach at Pearl River Community College. A former all-state offensive lineman at Pearl River, Stephens was a part of the PRCC coaching staff, as was current EMCC associate head coach/defensive coordinator William Jones, which produced four consecutive MACJC titles, including the 2004 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Championship.

Having compiled the school’s longest winning streak since legendary coach Bob “Bull” Sullivan’s 1964 EMJC squad opened the campaign with eight consecutive victories en route to a 9-2 season, this year’s East Mississippi club has put together a seven-game win string after dropping a 23-19 road decision to then-No. 7 Jones County on Sept. 6 during the second week of the season. The 8-1 Lions will be bidding for their first nine-win season since coach A.J. Kilpatrick’s 1969 ballclub went 9-1 in his first season as EMCC’s head football coach after succeeding Sullivan.

Behind the signal-calling talents of national offensive player of the year candidate Randall Mackey, East Mississippi continues to rank as the nation’s team leader in passing offense (311.3 yards per game) and total offense (488.8 yards per game). Rated among the national defensive leaders with 17 interceptions as a team on the year, the Lions are rated sixth nationally in team passing defense allowing just 115.6 passing yards per outing. EMCC also stands 15th among the NJCAA’s team statistical leaders in rushing offense with an average of 177.4 yards a game.

Individually, Mackey continues his quest to earn national honors by entering postseason play as the nation’s leader in passing offense and total offense while averaging 284.2 yards through the air, 50.1 yards on the ground and 334.3 yards of total offense per contest. The freshman quarterback from Bastrop (La.) High School has connected on 174-of-281 passes (62%) for 2,558 yards and 20 touchdowns, along with having added 451 rushing yards and four scores on the year.

Featuring five receivers with 23 or more catches for the season, EMCC boasts three receivers ranked among the nation’s top 22 individual leaders. Meridian’s Montrez Mosley and Mike Outlaw of Starkville lead the way with 40 and 39 grabs, respectively, while fellow sophomore Leon Berry of Griffin, Ga., has 37 receptions for a team-best 626 yards. Berry, the current MACJC/Region 23 Offensive Player of the Week, is also rated among the conference leaders in kickoff returns and punt returns with respective averages of 27.7 and 12.9 yards per return. Freshman running back Pat Shed of Starkville ranks third among the MACJC’s leaders with 720 rushing yards and is tied with Jones County’s Daniel Borne for the league’s scoring lead among non-kickers with 66 points.

Guided by seventh-year head coach Tim Hatten, 12th-ranked and second-seeded Pearl River enters postseason play with a 7-2 overall record and 4-2 South Division mark after dropping a 44-38 double-overtime home decision to East Central last week to close out regular-season play. Led by freshman quarterback Emil Jones, the Wildcats sport the nation’s fourth-rated passing offense (247.4 yards per game) and 12th-best total offense (375.6 yards per game). In addition, Pearl River is the MACJC’s top-rated team in total defense surrendering an average of 254 yards of total offense an outing.

Pearl River will be making its first football appearance in Scooba since coach Tom Goode’s 1998 EMCC club claimed a 48-10 home decision over the visiting Wildcats 10 years ago. The season prior in 1999, the Lions came away from Poplarville with a 35-3 road win over PRCC. The two teams were scheduled to play on the EMCC campus in 2005, but the game was cancelled due to Hurricane Katrina. En route to capturing the national championship four years ago, Pearl River posted a 40-0 home triumph over the Lions in 2004 during the most recent gridiron meeting between the two schools.

Saturday’s other MACJC opening-round playoff game will pit 10th-ranked and defending national co-champion Mississippi Gulf Coast from the South Division and the North’s second-seeded Northwest Mississippi in a 2 p.m. contest to be played in Perkinston. The winners of Saturday’s pair of playoff games will meet for the 2008 MACJC/Region 23 football championship a week from Saturday (Nov. 8) at a site to be determined.

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