SCOOBA — Some of the best football players to play at East Mississippi Community College were on campus for Homecoming and Hall of Fame induction ceremonies this weekend.
It is a safe bet several of the Lions who saw action Saturday on the Sullivan-Windham Stadium playing surface will be back to be honored in years to come.
Third-ranked EMCC secured its third North Division title in the past four seasons with a 54-0 victory against Mississippi Delta C.C. before a standing-room only crowd on a picture-perfect afternoon at the new stadium.
“We have no breakfast check if we pitched the shutout,” EMCC freshman defensive back Jason Yarbor said. “That was the goal all week, getting the shutout. We approach every game the same way. We come in with the game plan to dominate.”
EMCC scored on four of five first-quarter possession and led 27-0 after one period. In the second quarter, the working officials used a running game clock. From there, the activity was expedited and the Homecoming crowd left very happy.
“It was a tough game from a concentration standpoint,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “At halftime, we reminded our players we were down 27 over there last year (in a 42-27 win at Delta). It is hard to maintain your focus in this type of game. However, I am very proud to get the win and keep moving on.”
EMCC improved to 8-0 and 5-0 in the North Division. The Lions are 21-2 in division games in Stephens’ four seasons as coach. EMCC won division titles in 2008 and 2009 before clinching another title Saturday.
Winning the division title means home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. EMCC will play host to Gulf Coast C.C. or Hinds C.C. in a first-round playoff game Nov. 5. Gulf Coast and Hinds will play next Saturday in Perkinston for the South Division title. The loser of that contest will travel to Scooba to start the postseason.
“It means a lot to wrap up the division title,” EMCC sophomore wide receiver Lacoltan Bester said. “It is great playing at home. We are pumped about knowing our playoff games will be at our place. We always try to take care of business here.”
Business was taken care quite early Saturday. EMCC moved 57 yards on seven plays on its opening possession, capped by a 24-yard touchdown run by Rodriguez Moore
The quick-strike offense went quickly on its second march. The Lions moved 52 yards on back-to-back pass completions by Bo Wallace. Wallace hit Moore for a 15-yard pickup and followed it with a 37-yard toss to Bester for a touchdown.
EMCC moved 56 yards on four plays on the next possession. Wallace hit Rodney Davis on a 38-yard scoring strike to extend the lead. He followed that by hitting Jeremy Reed on a 34-yard touchdown pass to complete a 42-yard, four-play march.
EMCC’s first-quarter scoring drives lasted 1 minute, 40 seconds, 31 and 46 seconds, and 1:14. A 3-yard touchdown rush by Wallace was the only second-quarter scoring and gave EMCC a 33-0 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, the Lions moved 67 yards on 11 plays. Wallace threw his 32nd touchdown of the year on a 5-yard pass to Hamp Glover.
In the final half, West Point native Xavier Hogan saw extensive playing time in the backfield. Hogan scored his first touchdown at EMCC on an 18-yard jaunt at the 12-minute mark of the final quarter.
“(The touchdown) really felt great,” Hogan said. “It has been a lot of fun playing on this team. The offensive line opened up such a wide hole, I didn’t have any choice but to score. There was a guy at the goal line, so I just put my head down and met him head on.”
In the closing minutes, EMCC sophomore defensive back Amos Tatum intercepted a pass and ran it back 61 yards for a touchdown. EMCC’s only takeaway of the afternoon capped the scoring.
“We still have not made it through a game without a turnover (EMCC made one),” Stephens said. “But we did get our first defensive score of the year. I guess I will gladly accept that trade.”
Playing its next-to-last game under retiring coach Jay Miller, Delta dropped to 0-8 and 0-5. Entering Saturday’s game, the Trojans had only scored 44 points this season.
Delta made it past midfield twice. Down 27-0, a 54-yard pass play from Jeremy Collins to Raheem Sanders moved the Trojans to the EMCC 22-yard line. Quickly, the Lions stiffened and forced the turnover on downs.
EMCC had 27 first downs and 458 yards of offense. Wallace hit eight receivers and was 24 of 37 for 277 yards. Moore had 14 carries for 103 yards.
Delta had five first downs and 125 yards. The Trojans ran 33 times for 63 yards and were 2 of 15 passing for 62 yards. They averaged 28 yards on nine punts, setting EMCC up for short fields all day.
“Coach keeps telling us to stay together,” Yarbor said. “They tell us every day if we stay together and work hard there is nobody in the nation who can beat us.”
It is the second time in school history, first since 1964, EMCC has started 8-0. No EMCC team has won nine straight to start the season, and no EMCC team has completed the regular season undefeated.
Both of those goals can be reached at 7 p.m. Thursday at Holmes C.C.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.