GOODMAN — The East Mississippi Community College football team reigned supreme in a battle between the top two defenses in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
After an atypical slow start, No. 2 EMCC blew past Holmes C.C. 55-0 in a North Division game played before a capacity crowd Thursday night at Ras Branch Stadium.
“We knew they had the No. 2 defense in the state, so we really had to go to another level to get this win,” EMCC freshman running back/quarterback Todd Mays said. “Our mind-set going in was that this defense was legit and was going to be a major test. We didn’t play the best game we have played this season. However, we played well enough to prove we can have success against a great defense.”
After matching a National Junior College Athletic Association record for points in a game last week in a 90-7 division victory against Coahoma C.C., EMCC had some unusual difficulties early on. In the first quarter, the Lions punted on back-to back possessions for the first time this season.
“Our practices were not good this week,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “That translated onto the field in the early stages. I was really proud we snapped out of that and made sure it didn’t stay a competitive game for long.”
EMCC (6-0, 3-0 North Division) scored 29 points in the second quarter. It was the largest output in a quarter in six seasons under Stephens. EMCC scored three consecutive offensive touchdowns and capped the quarter with a 59-yard punt return by C.J. Bates that pushed the lead to 35-0 at halftime.
Bates scored on a punt return touchdown for the second time this season. The Lions have done that as a team three times.
“Punt returning is my favorite thing to do,” said Bates, a former Louisville High School standout. “I see all of my teammates out there in front of me and I see them take out one player after another. My job is to head in the right direction. It’s fun because a punt return can be a big play in a game.”
EMCC has outscored six opponents 253-0 in the first half.
“As an offense, we try to strike quick,” Mays said. “We want to take the other team out of the game early. Once we start playing with some confidence, we can be dangerous.”
Quarterback Dontreal Pruitt was 26 of 38 for 311 yards. He had touchdown passes to Antoinne Adkins and Lakenderic Thomas. Mays took over the team’s rushing touchdown lead at nine with four scores. Each came from 3 or 4 yards on quarterback keeps out of the pistol formation.
“That play (out of the pistol formation) is impossible to stop,” Mays said. “The offensive line gives some incredible protection, so 3 yards is easy.”
EMCC’s defense proved supreme in the showdown between the state’s top units. Holmes (1-5, 1-3) finished with 66 yards of total offense on 53 plays. The Bulldogs didn’t penetrate the red zone.
EMCC posted its fourth shutout en route to holding its third opponent to less than 100 yards of total offense. D.J. Pettway had four sacks, while Jimmie Gipson was in on two. Christian Russell also had one and three tackles for loss. Former Columbus High standout Byerson Cockrell had an interception for the squad’s lone takeaway.
EMCC racked up 500 yards of total offense against a unit that had been allowing slightly better than 300 yards per game. Bates led the receiving corps with four catches for 77 yards.
“(Losing the last two games in 2012) has been the biggest motivation possible for this team,” Bates said. “We are determined to not take any quarters off this season. Another team is going to have the best game ever to have a legitimate chance at beating us. From watching Holmes, we knew they had some really good players on defense. We faced this game like it was a major challenge. It does not matter who we are playing, though. We feel like we have things we can do offense.”
EMCC will play host to Northeast Mississippi C.C. on Thursday. The Lions are aiming for a third-straight division championship. Still, this season’s squad has much higher goals.
“The biggest three games of the season are here,” Stephens said. “We now have to have a great week of practice and play a great game each week. We can’t have one without the other. This team has an outstanding understanding of the opportunity that lies ahead. We expect to play 12 games. They will be ready.”
n No. 9 Copiah-Lincoln C.C. 48, No. 4 Itawamba C.C. 7: At Wesson, Quarterback Daniel Fitzwater was 21 of 39 for 440 yards and three touchdowns Thursday night.
“It was a good old fashion butt kicking,” ICC coach Jon Williams.
ICC (5-1, 3-0 MACJC North) surrendered 645 yards to Co-Lin (5-1, 2-1 MACJC South) and threw three interceptions. One of the interceptions was returned 74 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.
The Indians’ lone touchdown came on a 7-yard pass from Griff Loftis to Shante Rogers in the second quarter to make it 20-7.
Loftis was 13 of 41 for 147 yards. Jarvis Bentley had five catches for 58 yards. Chris Ingram had 14 carries for 58 yards to round out ICC’s 197 yards of total offense.
ICC will look to rebound Oct. 12 when it re-enters MACJC North play with a game at Coahoma C.C.
n In other MACJC action Thursday night, No. 10 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. edged Pearl River C.C. 19-17 in Poplarville.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.