Preseason No. 1-ranked and reigning NJCAA National Champion East Mississippi Community College successfully kicked off its 2014 football slate with a convincing 52-14 road victory over Southwest Mississippi Community College Thursday evening at John I. Hurst Stadium/Monroe McElveen Field.
Following a game-opening, 42-yard kickoff return by EMCC newcomer DJ Law, Clemson transfer quarterback Chad Kelly engineered a nine-play, 48-yard drive that was capped by a 2-yard scoring pass from the Buffalo, N.Y., native to Knoxville, Tenn., product Camion Patrick at the 12:24 mark of the opening quarter.
The home-standing SMCC Bears tied things up later in the period when De’Angelo Ballard’s 7-yard touchdown strike to Ladarrius Slocum with 3:19 remaining completed an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive. The tandem would connect again midway through the fourth quarter for the game’s final points on a 29-yard touchdown pass.
The visitors promptly went back to work on their ensuing possession by putting together a 15-play, 85-yard drive that culminated a minute into the second quarter with Kelly following sophomore running back Preston Baker up the middle and into the end zone. The 1-yard touchdown plunge put the Lions on top for good and started a string of 45 unanswered points.
After the EMCC defense forced a three-and-out, the score quickly became 21-7 at the 11:11 mark when Kelly hit sophomore Todd Mays on a swing pass that resulted in an 81-yard scoring catch and run. Another empty offensive possession by Southwest led to more points, as the Lions took advantage of a short field and cashed in on a 9-yard scoring strike from Kelly to sophomore Brandon Acker to make it 28-7 with 7:30 remaining in the half.
Coach Buddy Stephens’ EMCC squad then used excellent clock management to close out the first half by quickly getting into scoring position during the waning seconds and increasing the halftime margin to 31-7 on a 28-yard field goal by sophomore placekicker Drew White of Tupelo.
Following intermission, the Lions’ defensive unit set the tone for the second half. SMCC’s initial offensive drive of the third quarter was derailed by a 9-yard quarterback sack at the hands of LSU transfer Lorenzo Phillips. The visitors turned that effort into another score when Kelly found sophomore Kameron Myers over the middle on a fourth-and-one play that saw the speedy wide out from Charleston sprint 41 yards to the left corner of the end zone for a 38-7 EMCC advantage.
On the ensuing Southwest possession, EMCC’s stopper squad directly contributed to the debut of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges’ newly implemented football mercy rule, which calls for a running clock during the second half of any game featuring a point differential of 38 points or more. Sophomore linebacker Demetrius Cain picked off Ballard’s floating aerial deep in Southwest territory and rumbled 21 yards down the left sideline to invoke the mercy rule with the 45-7 discrepancy. The pick by Cain was the fourth collegiate career pass interception for the former two-way standout at Hazlehurst High School.
As time expired in the third quarter, the Lions would go on to reach the 50-point barrier for the 21st time during their 33-2 run over the last three-plus seasons. After EMCC sophomore safety Jessie Gill picked off his first collegiate pass interception, Mays, under center, and Law paced an 11-play, 82-yard drive that saw Baker ultimately bounce right toward the right pylon for an 8-yard scoring scamper to make it 52-7 heading into the final period.
Kelly, the nephew of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly of Buffalo Bills fame, completed his debut EMCC performance going 31-of-38 through the air for 355 passing yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound signal caller also ran five times for 30 yards and a score. With a dozen different Lion receivers hauling in passes on the night, Acker, from Hattiesburg, snared a career-high 10 passes for 101 receiving yards and a touchdown. Myers followed with eight grabs for 81 yards and a score.
On the ground, EMCC’s potent running attack featured four backs with 30 rushing yards or more. Law, a freshman out of Haines City, Fla., led the way with 93 yards on 14 carries. Baker and Mays added 63 and 48 rushing yards, respectively, for the winners.
East Mississippi’s solid season-opening triumph over Southwest Mississippi sets the stage for Thursday’s (Sept. 4) national showcase contest between the top-ranked Lions and the No. 3 Wolfpack of Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Kickoff for EMCC’s 2014 home opener is set for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus. The upcoming early-season clash of top three gridiron combatants takes on added significance, as the Lions will be looking to avenge their lone home loss in the 18 outings contested at their new football facility since 2011. Visiting Co-Lin abruptly ended EMCC’s 2012 campaign with a last-second 47-46 victory over the Lions in the MACJC State Semifinals played in Scooba.