MOORHEAD — Thanks to the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges mercy rule, No. 3 East Mississippi Community College has been known for playing quick games.
However, Thursday night took the quickness to a new extreme.
EMCC was leading Mississippi Delta C.C. 48-0 at Jim Randall Stadium and on its way to completing its third-straight perfect run through North Division play. But a fight broke out with less than a minute to go before halftime after EMCC sophomore running back D.J. Law caught a pass and was tackled hard out of bounds. A defender then picked Law up and slammed him back to the ground in front of the Mississippi Delta bench.
Several Mississippi Delta players joined the fracas as Law got to his feet and started swinging. The EMCC bench quickly emptied.
Five or six fights broke out on the field following the initial skirmish. Several spectators even came down on the track surrounding the field. The officials blew whistles tirelessly as several players threw punches, shoved one another and coaches. Officials also were hit by physical contact. A couple of Mississippi Delta players picked trash cans up from the sidelines and threw them onto the field.
After more than five minutes, law enforcement took the field and attempted to restore order. After sending both teams to their sidelines, game and school officials met for about 10 minutes at midfield before calling the game.
“I put this on us for our lack of discipline,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said, “the referees for not controlling the game and (Delta) for (its) lack of discipline. … You could have been Ray Charles and you could have seen what was going on the whole first half.”
The tempers flared before the opening kickoff. Two Mississippi Delta players and two EMCC players jostled at midfield over who had the right to warm up in an area. A Mississippi Delta player threw a punch during the pregame melee.
Stephens said that situation set the tone for the evening.
“It all started in the pregame with one of our managers getting five stitches (from an attack by a Delta player),” Stephens said.
EMCC had won the four previous series meetings by a combined score of 245-0. Mississippi Delta attempted to level the odds by playing physical football and playing past the whistle. Mississippi Delta players were involved in pushing and shoving after numerous plays.
Still, the Lions still made quick work of the Trojans on the field.
After Wyatt Roberts threw an interception on EMCC’s first possession, the Lions scored touchdowns on their next seven possessions. Reserve quarterback John Franklin III rushed for five touchdowns and threw a touchdown to Dario Robinson.
Former Starkville High standout Jacquez Horsley had EMCC’s other touchdown.
After a first half that featured seven personal-foul penalties, things unraveled in the final minute of the half. Leading 48-0, EMCC called back-to-back timeouts to get the ball back for one final first-half possession.
On the fourth play of this possession, Law caught a pass and was tackled hard out of bounds. After a Mississippi Delta player picked him up and slammed him back to the ground in front of the Delta bench, Law’s retaliation led to the melee.
“We told our guys how this game would be and how (Delta) would play,” Stephens said. “If they don’t listen, I simply can not help them.”
When asked if the game would count in the standings, Stephens said he didn’t know and he didn’t care, saying the whole incident “was a major embarrassment for all of us.”
On the Mississippi Network junior college football scoreboard show late Thursday night, host Mike Frazier read a statement from MACJC Commissioner Jim Southward.
The statement read, “The MACJC will be talking depth to the game officials and both teams (today), and once they receive all of the information, they will have another statement to make.”
EMCC finished with 436 yards and 20 first downs. Franklin rushed for a season-best 167 yards on 10 rushes. He also was 11 of 13 for 120 yards.
If the game is counted as a victory, EMCC will improve to 8-1 and 6-0 in division play. The Lions clinched their fifth-straight North Division title last week with a victory against Northwest Mississippi C.C. It would be EMCC’s 18th-straight win in division play. Delta would finish 2-7 and 2-4.
EMCC is slated to play host to South Division No. 2 seed and No. 16 nationally East Central C.C. (7-2) in the opening-round of the MACJC playoffs on Oct. 31 in Scooba. Also on that day, the other semifinal is scheduled to match South Division champion No. 11 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. (7-2) and No. 6 Northwest Mississippi (8-1) in Perkinston.
The MACJC is expected to release an additional statement today. The statement should cover whether the EMCC-Mississippi Delta counts as a game. It should also include an announcement about suspensions for players or coaches.
If all of the EMCC players who left the bench area receive a one-game suspension, the Lions’ playoff game set for Oct. 31 could be canceled, which would end the season. Under that scenario, the MACJC could pick North Division No. 3 team Itawamba C.C. (6-3) as a playoff participant.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.