November 10, 2017 10:57:25 AM
Tyrell Price wasn't concerned about the recent lack of focus on a running game at East Mississippi Community College.
The former Lafayette County High School standout knew the program had a rich tradition of strong running backs. He also had confidence in his ability if given a chance to shine.
EMCC has relied on Price and a powerful running game to re-claim the National Junior College Athletic Association's (NJCAA) No. 1 ranking.
EMCC running game will be relied on heavily Saturday when EMCC faces No. 4 Northwest Mississippi Community College (8-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday for the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) state championship at Bobby Franklin Field in Senatobia.
"Every team needs some great backs," Price said. "I have been preparing for this moment my entire life. If it is not my number, someone else on this team will get the job done. Our running game can make a statement."
EMCC (9-1) won the NJCAA national championship in 2011, 2013, and 2014. The Lions won the first two titles with offensive balance and a 1,000-yard rusher.
"When the game matters, you have to be able to run the football," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "When the season started, we felt better about where we were in the running game. We felt like we had three legitimate backs (Price, Ja'Mori Mark, and Reginald Hunter Jr.) who could start for anybody in this league.
"The elite championship teams can do it all. Running the ball is critical. Special teams play is critical. To take that final step, you have to be great in all phases."
Price carried 22 times for 112 yards and three touchdowns Saturday in a 24-20 victory against then-No. 6 Jones County Junior College in the MACJC semifinals. For the season, Price has run for 896 yards and leads the NJCAA with 20 rushing touchdowns.
"Sensational," EMCC quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. said. "It takes a lot off your mind as the quarterback when you know you can give it off and the chains are going to move. When the running game gets going, it helps the passing game."
EMCC has only had two 1,000-yard rushers in Stephens' 10 seasons as head coach. Lakendric Thomas ran for 1,334 yards in 2013, while Rodriguez Moore ran for 1,303 yards in 2011.
Moore, who went on to play at Cincinnati, is serving as a graduate assistant coach on this year's team. He said Price has all of the tools to have a major impact at a senior college and professionally.
"His technique is great," Moore said. "He is always working hard, always studying, always trying to become a better player."
With the mercy rule shortening a majority of games, the running numbers have dropped significantly in each of the past three seasons. De'Andre Johnson ran for 834 yards last season. No running back has eclipsed 615 yards in each of the past three seasons.
"I feel fortunate this year has gone as it has," Price said. "We have a lot of good options at quarterback. Fortunately, each of us has stayed healthy. It has been great seeing things come together."
In the regular season, Northwest beat EMCC 61-38 in Senatobia. The Northwest Mississippi C.C. front four was dominant and EMCC struggled to find consistency on the offense. EMCC still finished with 529 yards, including 215 yards rushing. Scott threw for 310 yards, but he was intercepted twice.
EMCC will attempt to win its sixth state championship under Stephens. A year ago, EMCC beat Northwest Mississippi C.C. 38-30 in the championship game.
"We need to have success early," Price said. "We fell behind early last time and started pressing. I think it will be a different outcome this time. We will go into the game with a better focus. Just have to eliminate the turnovers and help our defense out more. If we do that, we will be fine."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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