BOONEVILLE – The fourth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College took advantage of four consecutive Northeast Mississippi turnovers to open the game by mounting a 28-0 first-quarter lead en route to posting their third shutout in the past four games with Thursday night’s 49-0 blanking at Tiger Stadium.
Improving to 7-0 overall and 4-0 within MACJC North Division play, head coach Buddy Stephens’ EMCC Lions extended their overall winning streak to 19 consecutive games dating back to last year’s NJCAA national championship season. East Mississippi also remained unbeaten in 14 division road games spanning back to Stephens’ first season (2008) at the EMCC helm.
Following an EMCC three-and-out possession to open the division contest, Lion sophomore free safety Justin Cox got things rolling for the visitors by picking off his third interception of the year and eighth of his collegiate career on Northeast’s second play from scrimmage. Positioned nicely on the 20-yard line following NEMCC’s first miscue of the quarter, the Lions soon went up 7-0 as quarterback Quez Johnson hit former Starkville High School teammate Billy Shed on an 8-yard swing pass at the 10:54 mark.
That proved to be just the start of a momentum-building span of one and a half minutes for East Mississippi that completely set the tone for the entire contest. On the next play from scrimmage, Northeast running back Jay Jones fumbled the handoff and the loose ball was recovered by EMCC’s Frank Richardson. One play and 21 seconds later, Johnson found Ole Miss transfer receiver Nick Brassell all alone in the right corner of the end zone for a 21-yard scoring strike to quickly make it 14-0. The Tigers’ misfortunes continued on the second play of their next possession when Richardson corralled Matt Lipham’s errant aerial and sprinted 27 yards for the score to put the Lions on top 21-0 with 9:25 still remaining in the opening period.
After seemingly settling into their first substantial drive of the game by getting to midfield in four plays, the Tigers proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot a fourth straight time to begin the contest. This time, EMCC sophomore strong safety Shaquille Fluker stepped in front of Lipham’s pass attempt for his team-leading fourth interception of the season. The Lions subsequently marched 67 yards on 10 plays, as Johnson capped the drive by plowing three yards untouched into the end zone for a 28-0 EMCC lead with 3:25 left in the first quarter.
As it turned out, a scoreless second quarter would feature two defensive stands by the visitors that would eventually result in the Lions’ third shutout victory in a four-game span. The Tigers’ initial scoring threat was halted at the 13-yard line following three straight incomplete passes. Northeast kicker Chris Cooper then missed to the right on a 30-yard field goal attempt. Later in the quarter with the first half winding down, Lipham connected with Jones on a 51-yard pass play to put the Tigers in business with first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Northeast managed to get to the 2-yard line before Jones was stopped at the line of scrimmage on successive run attempts to keep EMCC’s shutout intact.
Following a three-and-out by Northeast to begin the second half, the Lions used just seven plays, along with the help of a pair of costly facemask penalties by the home team, to move 80 yards for their fifth score of the contest. Johnson again went in from three yards out for his second rushing touchdown of the game and sixth of the season to extend the margin to 35-0 with 11:15 left in the third quarter.
The Lions would close out the 49-0 blanking with a pair of fourth-quarter scores. EMCC reserve signal-caller Dontreal Pruitt opened the final period by hitting South Carolina transfer receiver Martay Mattox with a 14-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone at the 13:09 mark. Later in the quarter, Lion freshman linebacker Brandon Edwards collected EMCC’s fourth pass interception of the night and 14th of the year to help set up Xavier Hogan’s 2-yard scoring burst with 4:58 remaining in the contest.
Statistically, EMCC’s balanced offensive attack churned out 197 yards on the ground, led by West Point’s Lakenderic Thomas’ 67 rushing yards on six carries, along with 152 yards as a team through the air. Johnson, a Starkville product, accounted for 155 yards of total offense and four touchdowns with 11-of-20 passing for 129 yards and two scoring tosses as well as 26 rushing yards and two more scores via the ground.
Combined with prior home shutout victories over Holmes (35-0) last week and Mississippi Delta (56-0) on Sept. 20, EMCC’s stout defensive unit has now held the opposition scoreless in 22 of the 28 quarters played this season. The Lions have surrendered a total of just 45 points in seven games on the year for an average of only 6.4 points allowed per contest.
Now 43-8 overall and 26-2 against division foes during the Stephens era, the EMCC Lions look to move another step closer to securing their fourth MACJC North Division football title in five years and a top seed in next month’s MACJC State Playoffs by playing host to unbeaten and sixth-ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College on Thursday (Oct. 18). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.