BILOXI — East Mississippi Community College sophomore defensive end Marco Montgomery embraced a couple of family members.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder shed a tear or two as he whispered, “We are national champions” into a loved one’s ear.
A relative finished the thought when she said, “Again!”
Top-ranked EMCC made it back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association national championships with a 34-17 win against No. 2 Iowa Western C.C. Sunday in Mississippi Bowl VII at Biloxi High School’s Indian Stadium.
EMCC (12-0) completed its second-straight undefeated season, and third in four seasons. The Lions’ 24-game winning streak is a new standard for Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges schools.
“This team is special,” EMCC seventh-year coach Buddy Stephens said. “No championship team stands out above any other because each is special in its own way. What this team put together this season is pretty special. It becomes quite daunting to keep this thing going.”
EMCC is the first MACJC institution with three national championships. The Lions also is the first MACJC school — fourth nationally — to win back-to-back titles.
“I feel humbled and blessed,” said EMCC sophomore linebacker Justin Lucas, of Aberdeen. “God has a way of putting something like this together. It is the hardest-working group of people I have ever been around. We worked hard each week and stayed true to our game plan.”
The game plan was simple: force Iowa Western (11-1) into turnovers. The Reivers were held to 195 yards of total offense and committed five turnovers — all in the first half.
Chad Kelly hit Ja’Marcus Revies on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 55 seconds left in the half. That score gave EMCC a 21-7 halftime advantage. EMCC led at halftime in all of its games this season.
The touchdown was part of a monster day for the Clemson University transfer, who was 40 of 53 — both season highs — for 434 yards and five touchdowns, which matched a season-high. In customary EMCC fashion, 10 receivers caught at least one pass, while four caught a touchdown.
The final score was a 33-yard touchdown to former Starkville High standout Preston Baker.
“We faced some adversity for the first or second time this year,” Baker said. “We were staring at a really good team. We just have to stay patient and do what we believe in. Chad was really great. He was a difference-maker on the field. He wanted to win a championship, and he carried us with him.
“The defense was great,” he added. “Five turnovers is a lot. If you get that, you just about have to win.”
EMCC overcame its brief flurry of adversity by driving 76 yards on 12 plays late in the third quarter. Kelly again was on fire, much like the opening possession when he was 8 of 9. Kelly capped the third-quarter march with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Camion Patrick. He was 6 of 8 on the drive.
Such offensive precision was more than enough for the EMCC defense. Quan Latham had two interceptions, while Lucas had a team-high 14 tackles.
“Our goal was to keep making plays,” Lucas said. “Everybody is excited when you are playing for a championship. When our offense is clicking, our job is to get them more possessions. It feels really great to be champions again.”
Stephens downplayed the dynasty talk. He said he was proud of his program; however, the next mission was to display staying power.
“We will take a week off and be excited,” Stephens said. “Then we will come back and try to build this thing again. It’s a quite a challenge, but there is no reason to make it stop.”
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.