September 20, 2013 11:34:06 AM
MOORHEAD -- For East Mississippi Community College football players, one could consider the postgame a semi-victory.
Outside the locker room, coach Buddy Stephens announcement that the players had earned an off day from practice Monday drew a loud roar of approval. Stephens then reminded the players they needed to be in class Friday morning. He quickly added if he could get them out of that he would.
The No. 5 Lions (4-0) earned high marks from Stephens and everyone in attendance at Joe Randall Stadium on Thursday night with a 70-0 dismantling of Mississippi Delta C.C. in its MACJC North Division opener.
"We got a slow start tonight, but the way we finished up in the second half was totally unbelievable," EMCC sophomore defensive back Ken Breland said. "You always have butterflies before a game starts. However, once you get into the game, your mind is free and you just try to make plays. Tonight, we made a whole bunch of plays."
EMCC dominated every aspect. The Lions had 573 yards of total offense, including a career-high 495-yard passing night from sophomore quarterback Dontreal Pruitt. EMCC intercepted six passes, including two returns for touchdowns. Drew White hit all 10 extra-point attempts, and freshman sensation Kameron Myers blocked a punt.
"We came on the road and took care of our business," said Stephens, who is 5-1 in division openers. "We did not let them get in our heads. We were better than that. As a coach, I am supposed to point out we didn't run the ball well (19 rushes, 80 yards) and that we had too many penalties (10 for 105 yards).
"But also as a coach I am supposed to point out I am awfully proud we played the way we did. We will have to be better for other games down the road. For now, we are pretty good."
EMCC beat its second winless opponent this season. It will play a third winless foe (Coahoma C.C.) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, for Homecoming in Scooba. Only one regular-season opponent is ranked.
For the first time being, though, the Lions faced some adversity. EMCC didn't score on three of its first four possessions, committed one turnover, and led 7-0 after one quarter. Last season in EMCC's 56-0 victory, Mississippi Delta didn't cross midfield. The Trojans (0-4, 0-2) got there on their second possession Thursday night.
"We faced some adversity early in the game," Pruitt said. "We responded and really hit that adversity right in the mound. Coach had been waiting to see how we would respond. Every day in practice he tells us it is not going to always be easy. I think it was not the kind of start we wanted, but things got a lot better after that."
EMCC scored on four straight possessions in the second quarter and led 35-0 at halftime. Lakenderic Thomas had two rushing touchdowns in the quarter to help EMCC push its edge against opponents in the first half to 163-0 this season.
"It is pretty amazing when the offense finds that next gear," EMCC sophomore linebacker Christian Russell said. "We gave up some big plays tonight, but the shutout was never in doubt. We have a streak going, and we plan to keep that up."
EMCC hasn't allowed a touchdown in the last 13 quarters defensively. Fenest Armstrong, Russell, A.J. Stamps, Allen Sentimore, Deshadrick Truly, and Breland had interceptions. Truly returned his 31 yards, and Breland took his 22 yards for the final two touchdowns.
"We are real high-tempo on defense," Breland said. "But everything is simple. We are not complex. The base defense gives us a chance to make plays without thinking. The fun thing about this team is we scored 70 points but we aren't anywhere near our full potential."
Stephens feels the same way. It is natural to draw comparisons between this team and the 2011 national championship squad. With back-to-back winless opponents on the horizon, Stephens wants his players to rest and to get healthy. The stretch run will be more challenging. However, he expects the team to keep grinding when the temperatures start to fall and the games matter more.
"This team understands what lies ahead," Stephens said. "Last year, the team turned out to not be ready for the adversity that hit at the end of the year. You can definitely tell a different demeanor in this team. Everything is personal."
Russell has seen a lot of growth and maturity in a defense that has three-straight shutouts for the first time in school history.
"This team is having a lot of fun," Russell said. "None of the games have been close. However, we got something special lined up for when we are in a tight game."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
2. Ole Miss earns NCAA bid; Southern Mississippi left out COLLEGE SPORTS