National television has turned the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry into one of the best in the NFL.
Each senior college football season ends with multiple rivalry games, such as Mississippi State-the University of Mississippi, the University of Alabama-Auburn, Oregon-Oregon State, and Georgia-Georgia Tech.
The Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges is developing quite the rivalry of its own.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, No. 2 East Mississippi Community College (10-0) and No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (9-1) will play the latest installment of what has turned into an intense and passionate rivalry. In this meeting, the MACJC state championship will be decided at Sullivan-Windham Field on the EMCC campus.
Gates open at noon. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students with a valid college ID. WFCA-FM (107.9) will broadcast the game live. A video feed of the state championship game will be available at http://athletics.eastms.edu.
“Our games with Gulf Coast have really been classics,” EMCC fourth-year coach Buddy Stephens said. “They are like us in a lot of ways. When we meet them, there is usually a lot riding on the game. When you play a great team like Gulf Coast, you know you have accomplished something when you are able to pull off the win.”
This may be the biggest football game in EMCC history. For the third time, the Lions are ranked second in the nation. EMCC trails only Arizona Western College in the national rankings. The final NJCAA top 20 will be released Tuesday. A victory by EMCC would all but assure it of finishing first or second in the final national poll.
The winner of Saturday’s game also will secure a spot in the Mississippi Bowl on Dec. 4 at Biloxi High School’s Indians Stadium. In the 2009 Mississippi Bowl, EMCC defeated Arizona Western 27-24. EMCC has never won a national championship in football. It appears a victory Saturday would place the Lions in a position to play one final game for that title.
“What we have done in the past has allowed us to play two more meaningful games,” Stephens said. “Our kids have rarely been fazed by adversity or the big stage this year. I think they will come out ready to play hard. Playing at home is huge. That will give us a big lift.
“In a championship environment, you need every lift you can get.”
This is the sixth EMCC-Gulf Coast meeting in the past four seasons. EMCC defeated then-No. 2 MGCCC 27-23 in the 2008 regular season at Perkinston. In 2009, the teams split two meetings. MGCCC won 43-26 in the regular season in Scooba, only to lose 75-71 in the state championship game, also in Scooba. In 2010, MGCCC won 40-21 in Perkinston. This season, EMCC won the season opener 34-30 in Scooba.
EMCC’s victory in 2009 gave the school its first state championship in football. MGCCC bounced back to win the 2010 state championship and the Mississippi Bowl. The Bulldogs have won three of the past four state titles, and appeared in the championship game all four years.
“The games with East Mississippi have been some of the best I have coached in,” Mississippi Gulf Coast coach Steve Campbell said. “Buddy has such a wide-open offense. When it is clicking, it is very hard to stop. Every possession is a big one. Every defensive stop is a big one. The game can turn at a moment’s notice.”
EMCC is 10-0 for the first in school history, while MGCCC has won nine straight since opening the season with the loss at Scooba. MGCCC has won five straight South Division titles, including back-to-back undefeated runs through league play. EMCC captured the North Division title for the third time in the past four seasons. Each of those titles has included a perfect run through league play.
Taking EMCC’s 34-30 victory against MGCCC out of the equation, the teams have combined to win the other 18 games by an average margin of victory of 42 points.
“It is really hard to take a lot from the first game,” Campbell said. “Both teams have come a long way since then. You can track tendencies. For the most part, everybody in the league knows everybody else. There is no reason to think this won’t be a great game.”
In the opening round of the playoffs, EMCC beat Hinds C.C. 55-24 in Scooba. The Lions pitched a 28-0 second-half shutout to help rally from a 24-21 deficit. MGCCC edged Northeast Mississippi C.C. 20-17 in overtime in Perkinston.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.