The fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College broke open a scoreless tie late in the third quarter by scoring 35 unanswered points over the game’s final 18 minutes to claim a 35-0 MACJC North Division victory over visiting Holmes in the midst of homecoming festivities on the Scooba campus.
Following a scoreless first half of play at Sullivan-Windham Field, the Lions’ stellar defense helped put EMCC’s offense in gear. A pair of negative-yardage plays and a holding penalty by Holmes forced a third straight punt by the Bulldogs to begin the second half. Gaining possession near midfield, EMCC freshman quarterback Quez Johnson hit fellow Starkville High School product Billy Shed with a 46-yard reception down the middle of the field to set up a first-and-goal opportunity from the 7-yard line. Four plays later on a fourth-and-one, Rodriguez Moore (Bastrop, La.) punched it in from a yard out to finally put the Lions on the scoreboard with 2:50 left in the third quarter. Moore’s score was his ninth rushing touchdown of the year.
The visiting Bulldogs subsequently attempted to answer the game’s initial score with the aid of a 37-yard kickoff return by Jacorie Ousley. After three straight 7-yard rushing plays moved the visitors inside the red zone, EMCC sophomore strong safety Shaquille Fluker stepped in front of a Dennis Robertson pass for his team-leading third interception of the season.
Still just 7-0 heading into the fourth quarter, the final period began with EMCC’s Jason Yarbor picking off his second interception of the season to put the Lions in prime position with a first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. However, four penalties helped negate two different EMCC touchdowns during the possession that ended with placekicker Morgan Rhodes missing to the right on a 40-yard field-goal attempt.
That unfortunate offensive series seemed to light a collective fire under the home team, as the Lions scored on their next four possessions and didn’t allow a first down defensively the rest of the way. Consecutive sacks by EMCC’s stout stopper unit once again gave the Lions’ recharged offensive squad excellent field position close to midfield following another Holmes punt. Four plays later, Johnson connected with Ole Miss transfer Nick Brassell on a 32-yard scoring strike in the right corner of the end zone to make it 14-0 with 9:57 left in the contest.
East Mississippi was immediately in business again on the next play from scrimmage when sophomore free safety Justin Cox nabbed his second interception of the year and seventh of his career. On a fourth-and-six call, Johnson found Moore coming out of the backfield for a 32-yard catch-and-run score to quickly make it 21-0 just over a minute later.
Following a three-and-out by the visitors, the Lions primarily stayed on the ground during an 8-play, 63-yard drive that culminated with sophomore running back Xavier Hogan notching his second rushing touchdown of the year from five yards out at the 4:38 mark. Entering the contest averaging slightly less than 50 points per game on the year, EMCC put the finishing touches on the scoreboard with Johnson’s 16-yard touchdown toss to Martay Mattox coming with just 27.7 left on the game clock.
With the three pass interceptions in the game to raise their team total to 10 picks on the season, the Lions posted their second shutout of the season after blanking Mississippi Delta, 56-0, two weeks ago in Scooba. For the year, EMCC’s defense has now held the opposition scoreless in 18 of the 24 quarters played through the first six contests.
Though held scoreless in consecutive quarters for the first time since 2009 (at Itawamba) and blanked during the first half for the first time since Buddy Stephens’ first game at the EMCC helm (2008 vs. Copiah-Lincoln), the Lions were able to pick up the pace following the intermission. Johnson finished the afternoon 27-of-55 through the air for 339 yards and three touchdowns plus one interception.
Shed paced EMCC’s receivers with eight catches for 120 yards, while Brassell and fellow transfer Corey Smith (Grand Rapids CC) followed with six grabs apiece. Increasing his touchdown total to 10 scores on the year, Moore ran the ball 29 times for 90 yards on the ground.
With the setback, the Holmes Bulldogs dropped their first division decision after three straight wins while falling to 3-3 overall on the year.
Winners of 18 consecutive games spanning back to last year’s undefeated NJCAA National Championship season, the 6-0 EMCC Lions (3-0 in MACJC North) are now 42-8 overall and 25-2 in regular-season division play under Stephens’ guidance. East Mississippi travels to Booneville to meet the Tigers of Northeast Mississippi Community College on Thursday (Oct. 11) evening with a 7 p.m. kickoff.