Lions to Meet ICC for MACJC North Title

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

SCOOBA – Bidding for their third consecutive MACJC North Division championship and fifth division title in six seasons under head football coach Buddy Stephens, the second-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College (8-0, 5-0) close out their regular-season slate by playing host to division rival Itawamba Community College (6-2, 4-1) Thursday evening on the Scooba campus. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field.

The winner of Thursday’s EMCC-ICC gridiron battle will earn the division’s top seed for the upcoming MACJC State Playoffs, with the loser settling for the division’s other playoff spot. In the south, division champion Jones County and second-seeded Mississippi Gulf Coast have also punched their postseason tickets.

In next week’s first-round playoff action, fourth-ranked JCJC will host the No. 2 north seed, while the north champion will entertain fifth-ranked MGCCC on Saturday, Nov. 2. The two semifinal-game winners will then compete for the 2013 MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Championship the following Saturday (Nov. 9) at a site to be determined.

Now 52-10 overall and 32-3 in division play under Stephens’ guidance dating back to 2008, the EMCC Lions are attempting to become the first school to win three straight MACJC North Division football titles since Northwest Mississippi accomplished the feat during the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons. NWCC was also the last program to claim five MACJC North Division football crowns during a six-year span (1987-92), which included a run of four consecutive division titles (1989-92).

In addition, East Mississippi’s inclusive string of six consecutive state playoff football appearances trails only Gulf Coast’s current run of seven straight postseason berths, including this year’s upcoming appearance, within Mississippi’s junior college ranks.

Most recently, EMCC concluded a 4-0 regular-season road slate by claiming a decisive 79-7 victory over Northwest Mississippi last Thursday in Senatobia. The Lions broke open a 28-7 contest at the halftime break by scoring 51 third-quarter points against the Rangers.

Set to make their first football playoff appearance since 2007, the Indians of Itawamba Community College, guided by fourth-year head coach Jon Williams, most recently snapped a two-game losing skid (48-7 at Copiah-Lincoln and 47-41 in 2OT at Coahoma) by posting a 36-33 home triumph over Northeast Mississippi last Thursday in Fulton. With a 5-0 start to the current season, ICC had risen to No. 4 nationally in the NJCAA Top 20 poll prior to dropping the back-to-back road decisions.

EMCC will be looking to avenge last year’s 24-23 road loss to Itawamba, as the setback to the Indians in the 2012 regular-season finale on Tyler Jackson’s 43-yard field goal with 16 seconds remaining snapped several winning streaks for the Lions. Along with halting the Lions’ 20-game overall winning streak that had dated back to the start of their 2011 NJCAA National Championship season, the one-point loss also ended EMCC’s 20-game win string in regular-season contests that had spanned back to the 2010 campaign. In addition to marking East Mississippi’s first defeat in 15 MACJC North Division road outings under Stephens’ leadership, the setback also stopped the Lions’ five-game series win streak against ICC that had dated back to 2007.

With East Mississippi continuing to comfortably lead the NJCAA team ranks in both scoring offense (66.3 ppg) and scoring defense (2.5 ppg), no other NJCAA team is averaging as many as 50 points per game offensively while no other team nationally is limiting the opposition to single-digit scoring per contest on the year. Offensively as a team, the EMCC Lions also currently top the NJCAA statistical leaderboard in touchdowns scored (75) and total offense (621.4 yds/gm). Along with sharing the national team lead (w/Scottsdale) with 35 passing touchdowns, EMCC also stands second nationally (behind Navarro) with 31 rushing touchdowns for the season.

While surrendering just three rushing touchdowns and two extra-point kicks (20 total points) on the year, EMCC’s vaunted defensive unit rates second nationally (behind Trinity Valley) with 45 total sacks as a team while collectively holding the opposition to less than a yard per rushing attempt and only 28.4 rushing yards per game. Limiting their opponents to less than 40-percent passing, the Lions have not allowed a passing touchdown all season and their 20 pass interceptions co-lead the NJCAA along with Rochester. Additionally, 11 different EMCC players have picked off enemy aerials this season, including five pick-six pass interceptions.

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