No. 1 EMCC falls 42-41 in Overtime
SCOOBA – The top-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College fell from the ranks of the unbeaten by dropping a heartbreaking 42-41 overtime home decision to the No. 10 Hinds Eagles during Saturday’s MACCC Football Semifinals played at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field.
After four second-half ties resulted in a 35-35 deadlock at the end of regulation, Hinds scored first during the extra session on Jeffrey Pittman’s NJCAA-leading 19th rushing touchdown of the season and fourth of the game. Ben Duncan then booted his sixth PAT of the game to give the Eagles the seven-point lead.
The Lions promptly answered by going the 25 yards on six plays, capped by Jamari Jones’ 7-yard keeper for his second score of the game. Following a timeout, EMCC decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion try. However, Jones’ pass attempt to Jontarius Henderson in the end zone was tipped into the air and intercepted by defensive lineman Reginald Barnes Jr. to secure the victory for the visiting Eagles.
The overtime setback marked only the third home loss in 54 games for the Lions since moving into their current Sullivan-Windham Field facility in 2011. With seven conference championships and undefeated in title tilts during the Buddy Stephens coaching era (since 2008), all five of EMCC’s conference playoff losses have come during semifinal-round play.
With EMCC never owning the lead in the game, Saturday’s scoring began with a pick-six interception return of 66 yards by Hinds’ CJ Johnson at the 12:34 mark. The Lions then squandered two attempts at getting on the board during the opening quarter. First, Peyton Rodgers missed a 31-yard field goal attempt at the 7:55 mark. Later in the quarter, EMCC couldn’t take advantage of a blocked punt by Cameron Hines that set up a first-and-goal opportunity at the 4-yard line. Short-yardage quarterback Ethan Conner fumbled on the second play to keep the Lions scoreless. Rodgers came back in the second quarter to kick a pair of 22-yard field goals for EMCC’s only scores of the first half. His first successful kick came at the 12:28 mark to make it a 7-3 game.
The visitors responded by going 50 yards on just four plays for their second touchdown. After a 39-yard pass completion from BeSean McCray to Tabashi Thomas, Pittman plowed in from 5 yards out to increase Hinds’ lead to 14-3 with 10:36 remaining in the half.
EMCC’s special teams came up big again later in the quarter when Jacob Partridge chased down Hinds punter Houston Smith for a 6-yard loss to set up the Lions at the Eagles’ 28-yard line. However, four plays later on a third-down play from the 17-yard line, Jones took off down the left sideline headed for the end zone before he was met near the goal line by Hinds’ Emahd Dabney, who caused a fumble that was recovered by Johnson at the 1-yard line.
East Mississippi’s defense responded by forcing a three-and-out that gave the Lions the ball back at Hinds’ 35-yard line with four minutes left in the half. Rodgers converted his second 22-yard field goal of the quarter with 20 seconds left to cut the deficit to eight points heading to intermission.
Following a low-scoring first half of play, the third and fourth quarters featured 50 total points that saw the two teams exchange touchdowns throughout the remainder of the contest.
The Lions got things started in the second half with Jones connecting with Joshua Aka on a 23-yard touchdown pass and then again on the subsequent two-point conversion at the 8:01 mark of the third quarter. The 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive produced the first of four second-half ties.
The first deadlock didn’t last long, however, as Hinds answered with a 44-yard touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage when McCray found Kaleb Mosley to put the Eagles back on top, 21-14.
In contrast, EMCC then methodically marched 71 yards on 14 plays to even the score at 21-21 on Jones’ 5-yard shovel pass to Zach Patterson with 1:32 remaining in the third quarter.
Nothing was decided in the fourth quarter either, as both teams took turns scoring a pair of touchdowns during the final 15 minutes of regulation. Hinds benefitted from a roughing the passer penalty called on EMCC when Pittman capped a 10-play, 60-yard drive at the 13:10 mark with his first of two 1-yard scoring bursts in the quarter.
EMCC’s defensive unit then set up the Lions’ next score after Kendarius Smith and Lee Kpogba combined to strip Hinds receiver Cade Shepherd of the ball midway through the quarter. On the next play from scrimmage, Jones bolted 18 yards to the right front pylon to knot the score at 28-28 with 10:34 left in the quarter.
Another exchange of touchdowns between the two teams over the final 4:15 of regulation would set up the dramatic overtime session. After another 1-yard scoring burst by Pittman put Hinds back in the lead, the Lions countered with a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive that produced the fourth tie of the second half. Jones’ 14-yard touchdown toss to Henderson during the final minute of regulation knotted the score at 35-35 heading to the extra session.
Statistically, EMCC’s Jones accounted for 395 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the contest. Along with throwing for 273 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-40 passing, the Northwest Rankin High School product also rushed for a career-high 122 yards and two scores on 17 attempts.
Henderson was Jones’ top target on the afternoon with six receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown.
The 9-1 EMCC Lions will now await the Nov. 22 release of the NJCAA’s Division I football poll to see if the five-time national champions earn one of the four available spots to compete in next month’s (Dec. 4-5) NJCAA Division I Football Championship Semifinals.