Looking to close out their second straight unbeaten regular season on the gridiron, the third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College travel to Fulton to meet MACJC North Division foe Itawamba Community College Saturday afternoon. ICC’s homecoming kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. at Eaton Field on the Itawamba campus.
Having already secured the MACJC North Division’s No. 1 seed for the upcoming MACJC State Playoffs with their fourth regular-season division title in five years, head coach Buddy Stephens’ 8-0 EMCC Lions have won 20 consecutive games dating back to last year’s 12-0 NJCAA national championship season. EMCC also owns a current 20-game win string in regular-season play spanning back to the 2010 campaign.
Despite claiming a key 56-49 home victory over No. 5 Northwest Mississippi a week ago, East Mississippi remained at the No. 3 position in this week’s NJCAA Top 20 national poll behind top-ranked Iowa Western and No. 2 Butler. Now with one-third of the nine first-place votes and 182.5 voting points to their credit, the Lions currently trail Butler (189 pts) and IWCC (203 pts) by 6.5 and 20.5 voting points, respectively.
Previously ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA’s preseason poll and for the first two weeks of the regular season, the EMCC Lions have remained atop the JCGridwire.com and JCFootball.com national rankings for the better part of the 2012 season. The JCGridwire.com and JCFootball.com ratings include all NJCAA member schools along with the talent-laden California community college programs.
A more-balanced team offensively than last year’s unbeaten Lions squad, the 2012 EMCC club is averaging 541.9 yards of total offense per contest on the year to rank fifth nationally. With the current NJCAA Offensive Player of the Week Quez Johnson at the controls, the Lions are passing for an even 300 yards per game to rank sixth in the NJCAA. Completing 57 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns to stand fourth nationally, Johnson is also tied for the team lead with nine rushing scores on the year.
Sophomore transfer Corey Smith, of Akron, Ohio by way of Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College, continues to lead EMCC’s pass-catching corps with 43 receptions for 649 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore running back Rodriguez Moore has rushed for a team-high 779 yards (10th in the NJCAA) and nine scores for the season. The Bastrop, La., native is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 97.4 yards per game for the Lions.
Defensively, the Lions bent a little last week in surrendering 49 points and 586 yards of total offense in their MACJC North Division title-clinching victory over Northwest Mississippi. Prior to last week, EMCC had only allowed 45 total points in the previous seven contests combined, including three shutout victories (Northeast, Holmes and Mississippi Delta) in the prior four-game span. Including a season-high five interceptions on defense a week ago against NWCC, the Lions are tied for fourth among the NJCAA team ranks with 19 picks for the season. With at least one interception in all eight games this year, 12 of EMCC’s 19 picks have come over the last three outings.
Guided by third-year head coach Jon Williams, the Itawamba Indians are 5-3 overall and 3-2 within the MACJC North Division after claiming back-to-back division wins over Northeast Mississippi (36-15) last week and Coahoma (31-28) two weeks ago. ICC’s three setbacks this season have come against Holmes, Northwest Mississippi and Copiah-Lincoln, which included narrow losses to Holmes (14-12) in Week 4 and Co-Lin (17-14) two weeks later.
Along with having remained unbeaten in MACJC North Division road action (14-0) since Stephens’ arrival on the Scooba scene in 2008, the EMCC Lions will also be looking to extend their current five-game series win streak against Itawamba that dates back to a 31-28 overtime win in Fulton during the 2007 campaign. Most recently, EMCC claimed a 48-7 home victory over the Indians last season in Scooba and previously posted a 37-10 road triumph at ICC two years ago.
Saturday’s regular-season finale in Fulton will be broadcast live online by WFCA-FM radio (www.wfcafm108.com), out of French Camp, with Glen Beard and John Lyle Briggs set to describe the play-by-play action. WFCA’s broadcast of Saturday’s EMCC-ICC contest is also slated to be carried live in the Meridian market on SuperTalk Mississippi 103.3 FM as well as on WLSM-FM (107.1) in Louisville. Post-game highlights and interviews will also be available Friday via EMCC’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/emccathletics, which can also be accessed through EMCC’s school website, www.eastms.edu, and Facebook pages.
Set to make their fifth consecutive appearance in the MACJC State Playoffs under Stephens’ leadership, the EMCC Lions clinched the No.1 seed in the MACJC’s North Division with last week’s clutch win over Northwest and will now play host to the South’s No. 2 seed on Saturday, Nov. 3 in Scooba. The MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Championship Game will pair the winners of the two Nov. 3 semifinal-round playoff games on Saturday, Nov. 10 at a site to be determined.