CLARKSDALE — The East Mississippi Community College football program boasted perhaps the state’s best defense last season.
This season’s Lions are following that lead.
Top-ranked EMCC allowed 1 yard per rush, forced three turnovers, and blocked another punt for a score in an 83-7 rout of Coahoma C.C. in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division opener for both teams Thursday night at James E. Miller Stadium.
“We had a slow start the first couple of games, but we have really picked things up,” said EMCC sophomore defensive back Quan Latham, a former standout at Columbus High School. “We weren’t creating as many turnovers as we were used to. But this game was a whole lot better. There are some things to work on with assignments and formations, but we picked it up a lot tonight.”
EMCC (3-0, 1-0 division) began its quest for a fourth-straight North Division title by scoring a MACJC-record and possible national record 69 points in the opening half. The second half was played with a running clock and saw EMCC take knees at midfield with five minutes remaining.
The three-straight knees and first White Drew White punt snapped EMCC’s string of 11-straight scoring possessions.
“We tried to execute our plan,” EMCC sophomore wide receiver Kameron Myers said. “We had 10 people score, and that is what this team is all about. As a team, we really did awesome tonight.”
Quarterback Chad Kelly was 20 of 28 for 297 yards and four touchdowns. Kelly has thrown 11 touchdowns with no interceptions this season. In relief, Todd Mays and Wyatt Roberts recorded their first passing touchdowns.
Myers had six catches for 114 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown catch. Former Aberdeen standout Sammie Burroughs also had his first touchdown receiving, an 11-yarder from Kelly.
By that time, EMCC had built a 55-7 lead, thanks to back-to-back fumble recoveries by JaQarius Scott and Caleb Grant. Ronald Ollie also had a takeaway in the third quarter when he recovered a fumble. EMCC also dropped two interceptions.
EMCC has seven takeaways and is yet to lose possession in a game.
“We have a lot of new faces on defense,” Latham said. “We all young, but we got to get that brotherhood like we had last year. It is all about chemistry. We have to get everything together. Once we get better at our communication and we trust each other more, we will be a really good defensive unit.”
Last week in a showdown against then-No. 3 Copiah-Lincoln C.C., EMCC allowed 1 yard rushing. Against Coahoma (0-3, 0-1), EMCC allowed 29 yards on 27 carries. The Tigers had 14 rushes go for zero or negative yards.
“We’ve come a long way since the start of the season,” said EMCC sophomore linebacker Justin Lucas, of Aberdeen. “We had a couple of guys that really had to get used to playing defense in this league. Once we got some experience for some of these guys, you could tell we really picked it up a lot.
“The intensity is there. The desire to be the best is there. Last year’s defense was so good, so we feel a lot of pressure to live up to that.”
Kelly also hasn’t felt the pressure. The transfer from Clemson has dazzled in his first three starts. EMCC scored on its first three possessions by moving 71 yards on eight plays, 53 yards on three plays, and 37 yards on five plays. Latham’s punt block followed and ran the advantage to 28-0 less than 11 minutes in.
“I knew the count and was able to get off fast,” Latham said. “The guy in front of me didn’t want to block me. The punter followed through and the ball hit me in the stomach. My man (Ja’Marcus) Revies tried to pick it up, but I guess he was too excited because he couldn’t hang on, so I got the recovery. It was exciting to get the block and the score.”
Kelly hit Myers to complete a 34-point first quarter. Todd Mays later hit Revies on an 18-yard touchdown in the waning seconds of a 35-point second quarter. Ten receivers caught at least one ball from the three quarterbacks.
“We had a good week of practice, and it showed in this game,” Myers said. “Each week we are trying to get better both as individuals as a team. We showed in this game that we had another week of getting better.”
After defeating Coahoma 90-7 a year ago in Scooba, the Lions had an equally dominating performance for their 20th-straight win in the series. Coach Buddy Stephens is happy to be 3-0, but he knows what is ahead.
“I am excited for the guys,” Stephens said. “The big thing is to get back and try to fix everything. There are some communication things I have to work on with my staff and with the kids. It’s a work in progress like anything else. We want to be 1-0 each week. If you score 87 or 16 it doesn’t matter because you can’t carry the points over. We still have a long way to go to become a really special team.”
n Coahoma C.C. defensive back Zarrat Sims, of Hamilton, was injured late in the first quarter while making a tackle. After being removed from the stadium on a stretcher for precautionary reasons, Sims was later examined by doctors and determined to have no injuries.
n Itawamba C.C. 19, Holmes C.C. 3: At Fulton, the Indians took advantage of a great defensive showing to earn their first win of the season.
ICC (1-2, 1-0 MACJC North Division) faced two tough teams to start the season, and Thursday night wasn’t any different. The Indians won the turnover battle with three interceptions and one fumble recovery. Devan Gilleylen, of Shannon, had two interceptions, including one with less than two minutes left in the game to secure the victory.
Freshman running back Richard McQuarley, of Meridian, had 102 rushing yards on 22 carries with one touchdown.
Quarterback D’Andre Belton, of Ridgeway, S.C., was 3-for-8 for 38-yards and one touchdown. He connected with Levarious Varnado, of Calhoun City, for a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Belton also had 10 carries for 37 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
ICC will play at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Northwest Mississippi C.C.
n Northeast Mississippi C.C. 25, Northwest Mississippi C.C. 19, OT: At Booneville, the Tigers scored 25 unanswered points to rally past the Rangers on Military Appreciation Night at Tiger Stadium.
Quarterback Brett Thompson completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to LaVontis Smith for the game winning score in the first overtime period.
The Rangers (0-3, 0-1) took possession first in the extra session and missed a 30-yard field goal to set the stage for the Tigers to finish their comeback effort.
Northeast Mississippi (1-2, 1-0) tied the game on a 30-yard connection from Thompson to Smith with 8 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Thompson also had touchdown passes of 35 yards to Joe Horn Jr. and 29 yards to Corbin White.
Thompson, an Olive Branch native, passed for 161 yards, while White rushed 22 times for 107 yards. The Tigers outgained the Rangers 330-278.
Marcus Robinson led Northeast with 10 tackles, while former East Oktibbeha County High School standout Justin Williams had seven solo stops.
Former West Point High standout Roger Thomas (nine carries, 24 yards) had a 2-yard touchdown run for the Rangers. Former Starkville High standout Kentrell Spencer had seven catches for 79 yards.
Karsten Miller was 17 of 34 for 145 yards, while Terreous Johnson had 22 rushes for 88 yards for Northwest.
Northeast Mississippi will play next Thursday at East Mississippi C.C.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.