East Mississippi Community College is back on the other side of the feel good meter.
A three-game winning streak has the Lions back in the discussion for this season’s National Junior College Athletic Association national championship.
EMCC will take a break from its Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division slate to play one last non-division game Thursday.
No. 7 EMCC (4-1) will face Jones Junior College (2-3) in a 7 p.m. start at Ellisville.
“We feel like the bad times are behind us and we are definitely back in the hunt,” EMCC freshman linebacker Alex Lipscomb said. “In senior college ball, the national champion sometimes has one loss. We are just focused on the task at hand. That means we have to win each game here on out.”
In his eight seasons as EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens has always preached the goal of being 1-0 when a game week ends. The Lions have clung to their mantra to get past an overtime loss to Copiah-Lincoln Community College in the second week of the regular season.
“That was a tough loss but we were determined to not let it define our season,” EMCC sophomore running back D.J. Law said. “This program wins all the time. We don’t want to be the team that stops that trend. I think that would be very disheartening.”
EMCC has won back-to-back national championships with 12-0 records. EMCC has twice won the national championship despite being ranked No. 2 in the nation going into bowl season.
Fortunately for EMCC, the rankings continue to be kind. EMCC did slip from No. 6 to No. 7 after Saturday’s 48-24 win over Itawamba Community College. However, the Lions are firmly in the Top 10.
A showdown with No. 5 Northwest Mississippi Community College on Oct. 15 in Scooba will most likely determine the North Division champion. It can also bolster EMCC’s resume.
“We are competing from a championship but from a different direction,” Stephens said. “We know what it is like to be undefeated and leading the pack. You have to approach this challenge in the same manner. You can’t look ahead. You simply have to play games and try to be the best you can be each Thursday.”
Quarterback Wyatt Roberts is finding his comfort zone as the everyday starter. John Franklin III is gaining more playing time in a backup role. The ground game has flourished with starter Law being flanked by freshmen stars Isaiah Wright and Jacquez Horsley. Sophomore Allenzae Staggers leads a talented group of receivers.
“The offense has really made a lot of strides,” said Horsley, a former Starkville High standout. “I think there were a lot of new faces and we were learning how to play together as a unit. The chemistry has gotten better. Losing a game just made us madder and more determined. I think people are taking us a little lightly now because they think we are vulnerable. There is still a lot to play for.”
On defense, EMCC has recovered from a disastrous game against Co-Lin. Despite giving up 24 points Saturday, most were after the game was no longer in doubt.
EMCC held a commanding 24-0 lead at halftime and later a 31-0 lead in its third straight win over the archrival.
“It is all about communication,” EMCC sophomore cornerback C.J. Reavis said. “We weren’t really good at that to start the season. We had some new guys and it took a little while to pick up the pace. Really in the third game is when we felt comfortable. Since then we have really followed through on our assignments.”
EMCC returns to division play next Thursday with a matchup at Holmes Community College, before the battle with Northwest.
The Lions have run roughshod over the division of late. EMCC has won 15 straight division games and 26 of the last 27. The Lions are attempting to win a fifth straight North Division title.
That would be paramount to keep the national title hopes alive. Potential opponents in the MACJC playoffs could include No. 8 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and potential rematches against Co-Lin and Northwest.
“We feel like we control our own destiny,” Horsley said. “In a way we don’t. However, if we win the rest of our games it will be hard to keep the defending national champions out of the championship game.
“We can’t worry about all of that right now though. We have to worry about Jones and then the game after that. This team still has a long way to travel before it plays its best game.”
Follow Dispatch Sports Writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.