SCOOBA – Hitting the road for the final time this regular season, the second-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College travel Thursday to Senatobia to take on the Northwest Mississippi Community College Rangers in MACJC North Division football action. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Bobby Franklin Field on the NWCC campus.
On the heels of their fifth shutout of the season with last week’s 59-0 home triumph over Northeast Mississippi, head coach Buddy Stephens’ 7-0 EMCC Lions moved back up to the No. 2 slot nationally in this week’s NJCAA Top 20 poll after temporarily falling back a notch last week. Jones County’s 24-20 home loss to Hinds a week ago allowed East Mississippi to inch closer to top-ranked Georgia Military College.
With three of the nine first-place votes this week, EMCC stands 13.5 voting points behind No. 1 Georgia Military. Tyler (TX) Junior College improved a spot to No. 3, followed at the fourth position by reigning NJCAA National Champion Iowa Western and then by the MACJC South Division triumvirate of Copiah-Lincoln, Jones County and Mississippi Gulf Coast sitting at Nos. 5, 6 and 7, respectively. On the strength of its upset win over JCJC, Hinds climbed back into the NJCAA Top 20 at No. 16, while Itawamba fell from 13th to 20th following last week’s overtime loss to Coahoma.
Now 51-10 (.836) overall under Stephens’ guidance, the Lions are 31-3 (.912) in MACJC North Division regular-season contests since EMCC’s sixth-year head football coach took over in Scooba. Dating back to the start of the 2008 campaign, East Mississippi is 16-1 in division road games. Not only did last year’s 24-23 setback at Itawamba snap EMCC’s 20-game overall winning streak, it also halted the Lions’ 14-game division road win string.
Despite their successive, one-point losses to ICC and eventual MACJC State Champion Copiah-Lincoln to close out last year’s slate, the Lions have prevailed in 27 of their last 29 decisions spanning back to their NJCAA National Championship season in 2011. This week at Northwest, EMCC is bidding to go 8-0 for the third consecutive season.
Statistically, East Mississippi continues to lead all NJCAA teams in scoring offense (64.4 ppg), total offense (610.9 yds/gm), scoring defense (1.9 ppg) and with 18 pass interceptions defensively. In addition to topping the nation with 28 rushing touchdowns and standing second nationally with 27 passing touchdowns, the 2013 Lions also have five pick-six pass interceptions and one fumble recovery for a score. On special teams, EMCC has returned three punts for touchdowns on the year.
In contrast, EMCC’s dominant defensive unit has only allowed two touchdowns and one extra-point kick conversion in 28 quarters of football this season. While averaging 41.6 points per first half offensively, the Lions have yet to surrender a first-half point through the first seven games. The only points scored on EMCC thus far came via third-quarter touchdowns by Pearl River in the season opener and by Coahoma during Week 5.
Guided by first-year head football coach Brad LaPlante, the Rangers of Northwest Mississippi have struggled to a 1-6 overall record and 1-4 division mark this season. Four of Northwest’s setbacks have been by single digits, including each of the team’s last three losses to Holmes (17-14), Mississippi Delta (34-27) and then-No. 7 Itawamba (27-21). The Rangers’ lone victory to date was a 38-23 road win over Coahoma on Sept. 12. Now the 28th head coach in Northwest’s storied football history, LaPlante previously spent 11 seasons at NJCAA Division III Rochester (Minn.) Community and Technical College. Elevated to RCTC’s head coaching position in 2004 after four seasons as an assistant coach at the school, he directed Rochester to a composite record of 64-16, including four state championships, five NJCAA bowl game appearances and the 2007 NJCAA Division III National Championship.
With East Mississippi having prevailed in four of the last five meetings with Northwest Mississippi, all five prior gridiron battles between the two MACJC North Division foes have been decided by single digits. Most recently in a pair of high-scoring contests against the Rangers, the Lions won 56-49 last season in Scooba and 45-42 two years ago in Senatobia during EMCC’s unbeaten (12-0) season. The Lions also knocked off Northwest during the 2008 (27-19 in Scooba) and 2009 (49-42 in Senatobia) campaigns, while falling 25-19 at home to NWCC in 2010.