SCOOBA — Stakes were higher Thursday, but that didn’t matter to the East Mississippi Community College football team.
With the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College Northern Division title on the line, No. 2 EMCC relished the pressure of the moment and exacted some revenge on Itawamba C.C. in a 59-13 victory at Sullivan-Windham Field.
The victory helped EMCC (9-0) clinch the division title — the fifth under Stephens — outright and earned it a chance to play host to Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, in the semifinals of the MACJC playoffs. No. 4 Jones Junior College (7-1) will play host to ICC (6-3). The winners will play Nov. 9 for the MACJC state championship.
“That’s one ring down,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens told his team on the field after the victory.
The victory was doubly sweet after ICC snapped EMCC’s 20-game, two-season winning streak with a 24-23 victory in the 2012 regular-season finale. EMCC, the 2011 National Junior College Athletic Association national champion, appeared poised to defend its championship, only to see its season end with losses to ICC and Copiah-Lincoln C.C.
EMCC’s run to another perfect regular season started with a fumble by quarterback Dontreal Pruitt on the team’s first snap. ICC couldn’t capitalize, though, and it was smooth sailing for Pruitt and the Lions from there.
“You never want to start with a fumble, but we cannot let that bother us. That’s just the first play,” Pruitt said. “We came back out on the next drive without that on our mind. We put that in the back burner.”
EMCC marched 96 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown drive that Pruitt capped with a 6-yard pass to receiver Justin Mack.
With EMCC threatening to score again, ICC intercepted Pruitt and drove down the field on a defense that entered the game having allowed just 13 points this season.
“They came out with a good plan and got some plays on us,” EMCC linebacker Christian Russell said. “We never want to give up anything so there’s a lot we can still work on.”
On fourth down from the 6-yard line, however, Jimmie Gipson III blocked ICC’s 23-yard field goal attempt.
Two plays later, EMCC took advantage as Pruitt hit C.J. Bates, a 6-foot-2 standout from Louisville, for an 85-yard touchdown strike to help make it 14-0.
“That always seems to happen. Coach (Marcus) Wood runs this offense with some pace,” Stephens said. “We score, get a turnover, score again, and it keeps going. Our special teams always comes to play, and it’s big for us to get help every way we can.”
That was just the beginning of the long drives, as EMCC amassed 694 yards, including 330 rushing.
EMCC entered the game beating teams by more than 60 points per game. It relied on a balanced attack that included former West Point High School standout Lakenderic Thomas rushing for 114 yards. Pruitt threw for three touchdowns and ran for another one. Former Heritage Academy standout Brandon Bell caught a touchdown pass,and former Starkville High standout Preston Baker also rushed for a score.
“It feels good to beat a team that kept you from having an undefeated season last year. But other than that, a win is a win,” Pruitt said.
While it was nice to get revenge against ICC, EMCC has put that game in the rear-view mirror.
“We’re already set on Gulf Coast,” Stephens said.
Said Russell, “It felt good to beat them after last year. We’ve got a lot more ball to play, though. We have to keep getting better now or we’ll get sent home.”