SCOOBA – Beginning the final third of the junior college football regular-season slate, the third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College are set to welcome the Northeast Mississippi Community College Tigers for a Thursday night MACJC North Division clash on the Scooba campus. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field.
Though having slipped a notch to No. 3 in this week’s NJCAA Top 20 national poll, the unbeaten EMCC Lions still secure three of the nine first-place votes and stand just 1.5 voting points behind second-ranked Jones County Junior College. Georgia Military College sits at the top spot for the second straight week with the other six first-place votes and just 10 voting points ahead of EMCC.
Winners of 26 of their last 28 games dating back to the start of the school’s 2011 NJCAA national championship season, the Lions most recently improved to 6-0 on the year and rewarded sixth-year head coach Buddy Stephens with his 50th career victory by claiming a 55-0 road triumph over Holmes Community College last Thursday in Goodman. Last week’s whitewashing marked EMCC’s fourth shutout in six outings this season.
Averaging an NJCAA-best 65.3 points per game on the year, East Mississippi’s 48 offensive touchdowns have been equally distributed on the ground and through the air. For the season, the Lions have also returned four pass interceptions and three punts for touchdowns along with advancing a fumble recovery into the end zone. As a team, EMCC’s high-powered offense has produced points on 64 percent of its offensive possessions this season.
Individually, EMCC sophomore quarterback Dontreal Pruitt presently stands second among the NJCAA leaders with 23 touchdown passes (and only two interceptions) in addition to ranking third with an average of 345.2 passing yards per contest. The former Laurel High School standout also rates fourth nationally in completing nearly 70 percent (134-of-192) of his passes this season.
Pruitt’s stable of receivers features 10 pass-catchers with at least seven grabs on the year, while 10 different players have hauled in touchdown passes thus far. Louisville’s C.J. Bates, a two-time MACJC/jucoweekly.org Special Teams Player of the Week for his pair of punt returns for touchdowns this season, and sophomore Brandon Bell, of Columbus’ Heritage Academy, share team honors with 24 receptions apiece. Bell and Meridian’s Antoinne Adkins jointly lead the way with four touchdown catches each.
In the backfield, EMCC’s trio of West Point’s Lakenderic Thomas (434 rushing yards and seven touchdowns), Olive Branch’s Todd Mays (423 yds & 9 TDs) and Starkville’s Preston Baker (298 yds & 5 TDs) have combined to produce 1,155 rushing yards and 21 scores on the ground between them.
East Mississippi’s defensive numbers are equally impressive two-thirds into the regular season. Having yet to allow a first-half point through the first six games, the Lions have only surrendered third-quarter touchdowns to Pearl River (Week 1) and Coahoma (Week 5) for an average of 2.2 points allowed per outing.
Along with forcing the opposition into three-and-out possessions 46 percent of the time this season, EMCC’s stellar stopper unit has limited its six opponents to just seven total red-zone trips. In addition, the Lions have registered 69 tackles behind the line of scrimmage as a team for a collective total of 347 yards lost. Sophomore defensive end Jimmie Gipson III, by way of Olive Branch High School, is tied for second nationally with seven sacks for 60 yards lost.
In the defensive secondary, East Mississippi is tied for second nationally with 15 pass interceptions as a team, including four pick-six returns. Sophomore Allen Sentimore, from Laurel, tops the Lions with four interceptions on the year, followed by Vicksburg’s A.J. Stamps and Byerson Cockrell, of Columbus, with three and two picks, respectively.
Guided by sixth-year head football coach Ricky Smither, the Tigers of Northeast Mississippi are an even 3-3 overall on the season with all three wins coming within the division and all three setbacks coming against ranked MACJC South Division opponents. Most recently, Northeast earned a 27-17 Homecoming victory over Coahoma this past Saturday after previously besting division foes Holmes (17-14) and Northwest Mississippi (34-21) during Weeks 3 and 4, respectively.
Including Stephens’ 4-1 career coaching record versus Northeast, EMCC has prevailed in six of the last seven gridiron meetings between the two teams dating back to the 2006 campaign. During back-to-back visits to Booneville the past two years, the Lions shut out NEMCC, 49-0, last season and won, 63-35, in a high-scoring contest the year prior. The most recent Scooba battle resulted in the visiting Tigers earning a 49-42 victory over EMCC during the 2010 season.
EMCC’s football games this season are being broadcast live by WFCA-FM (107.9), out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Glen Beard describing the play-by-play action, and John Lyle Briggs serving as the Lions’ sideline reporter. EMCC’s 2013 football radio broadcasts are also being carried live by Meridian’s WKZB-FM (95.1).