No. 1 EMCC completes unbeaten regular season


FULTON – The top-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Commu­nity College completed their fifth unbeaten regular-season football slate since 2011 with a 34-9 road win over Itawamba during Thurs­day’s MACCC North Division ac­tion played at Eaton Field on the ICC campus.

Joining previous undefeated regular seasons posted in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2018 that all re­sulted in eventual conference and national championships, EMCC’s win over the Indians also secured the program’s 10th MACCC North Division title out­right during the Buddy Stephens coaching era.

With seven conference titles and five national championships also to their credit under Stephens’ guidance, the EMCC Lions now collectively turn their attention to the 2021 postseason by playing host to 11th-ranked and MACCC South Division run­ner-up Hinds in the MACCC Football Semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 6. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field. In the other MACCC semi­final-round playoff contest to be played on Nov. 6, fourth-ranked and MACCC South champion Jones will play host to seventh-ranked and MACCC North run­ner-up Northwest Mississippi in Ellisville. The two winners will then battle for the 2021 MACCC Football Championship the fol­lowing Saturday (Nov. 13) at a site to be determined by the semifinal-round results.

Thursday’s EMCC-ICC regular-season finale got rolling five min­utes into the game when the two teams exchanged pass intercep­tions on consecutive plays. After EMCC’s Jamari Jones was inter­cepted by ICC’s Peyton Rea, freshman strong safety Jeremy Mack Jr. returned the favor for the Lions by picking off his team-leading fourth interception of the year and running back Dylan Faulk’s errant aerial 38 yards to ICC’s 34-yard line. The visitors settled for a 23-yard field goal by Peyton Rodgers at the 6:10 mark that capped a 10-play EMCC drive.

Aided by a drive-opening, 54-yard run by Eric Watts on their next possession, the Indians an­swered with Shane Lasher’s 37-yard field goal to knot the score with 4:48 remaining in the first quarter.

The Lions quickly responded with a long play of their own to set up the game’s first touch­down. Beginning with a 39-yard catch and run from Jones to Zach Patterson, EMCC went 75 yards on seven plays to move back ahead, 10-3, on Jones’ 9-yard touchdown toss to Zias Perryman coming out of the backfield at the 1:37 mark. The scoring strike to close out the first-quarter scor­ing marked Jones’ 23rd touch­down pass of the season and Perryman’s team-leading 10th overall touchdown scored.

EMCC then took advantage of a high punt snap from center fol­lowing a three-and-out to gain ball possession at ICC’s 27-yard line. Utilizing an 18-yard pass completion from Jones to Jontar­ius Henderson to begin the short scoring drive, the Lions extended the lead to 17-3 on Ethan Con­ner’s 3-yard keeper into the end zone one minute into the second quarter.

Played in a blowing mist most of the evening, the game’s scor­ing halted until late in the third quarter when the Lions capital­ized on another ICC special teams miscue. Following an­other three-and-out forced by EMCC’s vaunted defensive unit, punter Price Nixon mishandled a low snap from center and the Lions took over at their own 38-yard line. Eight plays later on the heels of five straight pass com­pletions and Montae Spivey’s 22-yard rush, Jones scrambled around before locating Patterson in the back left corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown toss to make it a 24-3 contest. The scoring strike at the 6:23 mark of the third quarter marked Patter­son’s team-leading seventh touchdown reception of the sea­son.

With the Indians down to their third-string quarterback (Tylan Carter) due to injury, EMCC got on the board again late in the third quarter. After the Lions forced another three-and-out, Patterson’s subsequent 67-yard punt return set up a first-and-goal opportunity at the 2-yard line. Though kept out of the end zone, EMCC moved ahead, 27-3, on Rodgers’ 20-yard field goal with four minutes remaining in the quarter.

The Lions then put together their longest drive of the night in closing out their game scoring. Highlighted by Jones’ 31-yard keeper during the final seconds of the third quarter, EMCC stretched the advantage to 34-3 when Amariyon Howard bulled in from 2 yards out to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive with 14:32 still remaining in the contest.

The margin remained at 31 points until the final seconds of the contest when ICC defensive back Ralph Dunn picked off Damon Stewart’s pass in the end zone and ran the length of the field for the score with 20 sec­onds left to account for the game’s final outcome.

Along with completing 18-of-29 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns, Jones was also EMCC’s leading rusher in the game with 49 net yards on eight attempts. Perryman and Howard followed with 48 and 39 rushing yards, respectively.

Patterson, who also totaled 72 punt return yards and 32 kickoff return yards in the contest, was the Lions’ top pass receiver on the night with four catches for 60 yards and a score. Henderson and Joshua Aka added three re­ceptions apiece for the winners.

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