Second-half comeback gives EMCC victory
PERKINSTON – The eighth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College erased a 24-point deficit midway through the third quarter with six second-half touchdowns to pull off a stunning 48-45 come-from-behind road victory over Mississippi Gulf Coast during Thursday’s thrilling MACCC interdivisional football action played at A.L. May Memorial Stadium. The live-streamed contest was featured as the NJCAA Game of the Week by ESPN+.
After trailing 21-7 at the intermission and going down 31-7 seven minutes into the second half, the visiting Lions outscored the Bulldogs, 41-14, over the game’s final quarter and a half to improve to 3-1 overall on the year. The contest also marked the end of EMCC’s three-game road stretch. Now faced with the remaining portion of their MACCC North Division slate, the Lions return home to await fourth-ranked and reigning two-time MACCC champion Northwest Mississippi on Thursday (Sept. 29). The much-anticipated conference showdown is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.
Knocked down early by a couple of lengthy scoring plays from Gulf Coast, the Lions began their improbable comeback with a big play of their own on Eli Anderson’s 75-yard touchdown throw to Stacy Robinson at the 7:35 mark of the third quarter.
EMCC’s defense then provided a huge boost by forcing and recovering a fumble in Gulf Coast territory. Four plays later at the 3:26 mark, wide receiver Ethan Conner scored on a 3-yard run around right end to pull the Lions to within 11 points (31-20) heading into the explosive fourth quarter.
The final 15 minutes of game action generated a combined total of 42 points with six touchdowns. The Lions struck first in the fourth quarter by capping a five-play, 71-yard drive with Anderson’s 10-yard touchdown toss to Kobe Chambers at the 12:11 mark. The two-point conversion rushing attempt was unsuccessful, but EMCC managed to cut it to a one-possession contest at 31-26.
The Bulldogs answered on their next possession by going 63 yards on seven plays, capped by Xavier Evans’ 1-yard scoring burst to make it 38-26 with 9:12 left in the contest.
Utilizing their depth on both sides of the football throughout the nearly four-hour offensive slugfest, the Lions received a huge late-game contribution from reserve running back Mike McGowan on their subsequent scoring drive. The MGCCC transfer carried the ball four times and caught a pair of passes coming out of the backfield for a total of 40 yards during the drive that culminated with Anderson’s 4-yard scoring toss to Ole Miss transfer Marc Britt II. The margin was again cut to five points (38-33) with nearly six minutes remaining on the game clock.
To their credit, the Bulldogs responded 22 seconds later with their third scoring play of 68 yards or more on the night when quarterback Pat McQuaide connected with Keymari Odum on an 80-yard catch and run that once again made it a two-possession game (45-33) heading down the stretch.
Undaunted by the moment and riding the hot arm of Anderson - the reigning NJCAA and MACCC Offensive Player of the Week - the Lions proceeded to rip off chunk passing plays of 27 and 39 yards to Britt and Chambers, respectively, that ultimately resulted in Conner scoring on a 3-yard run around the left side. Cole Arthur’s subsequent PAT kick conversion once again made it a five-point margin (45-40) with just under four minutes remaining.
When it counted the most, EMCC’s defensive unit rose to the occasion on Gulf Coast’s final two possessions. First, the Lions forced a three-and-out to give their offense the ball with an opportunity to take the lead. A pass breakup downfield by Tulane transfer Reggie Neely on the drive’s first play seemed to set the tone for the game’s finish. Following the three-and-out, the Lions, with the aid of a pair of costly penalties by the Bulldogs, went 49 yards on seven plays to take their first lead (46-45) of the game. After Anderson found Duke Miller in the back right corner of the end zone from 10 yards out with a minute left in regulation, Conner was then on the receiving end of a successful two-point conversion pass attempt to make it a three-point margin.
Gulf Coast had just under a minute left to attempt to generate any type of offense, but a drive-opening delay of game infraction hampered a four-play possession that only managed to get to MGCCC’s 33-yard line.
The Bulldogs opened the game’s scoring with two big plays that gave them the early momentum before the visitors could get on the scoreboard. Cam Thomas’ 99-yard burst up the middle at the 9:23 mark was the lone scoring of the opening quarter.
MGCCC then went up, 14-0, on McQuaide’s 68-yard scoring pass to Odum at the 7:10 mark of the second quarter. After EMCC’s Amariyon Howard’s 6-yard touchdown run – his team-leading fifth rushing score of the year – at the 3:29 mark cut the margin in half, the Bulldogs went into halftime sporting a 21-7 lead after McQuaide hit Cyrus Hatfield with a 3-yard scoring strike with 11 seconds left in the half.
Coming out of intermission, Gulf Coast increased its seemingly insurmountable advantage to 31-7 after McQuaide’s 13-yard touchdown toss to Ramone Bradley at the 10:39 mark was followed by Gabe Showalter’s 22-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to set the stage for the Lions’ impressive comeback.
Coming off his player of the week performance against Holmes in his first collegiate start, EMCC’s Anderson was 34-of-48 versus Gulf Coast for 493 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Neshoba Central High School product connected with 11 different receivers in the contest, including five catches apiece by Chambers, Britt, Stacy Robinson and Tommie Johnson Jr.