Every team needs a rival.
The East Mississippi Community College football team hasn’t had one tearing through the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC).
It appears that might be changing.
No. 1 EMCC beat No. 4 Northwest Mississippi C.C. 67-66 in double overtime Saturday in Senatobia to win the school’s sixth MACJC State championship. The Lions have never worked harder to win a state title.
Northwest Mississippi C.C. beat EMCC 61-38 in the regular season in Senatobia. In the championship game, EMCC had to erase an eight-point deficit in the final nine minutes. The Lions also had a match a score in the second overtime before going for a two-point conversion to win the title.
The game was an instant classic. In the last few days, players from both teams have taken to Twitter to discuss the game and praise one another. It’s a spirited rivalry, but it’s a rivalry with a lot of respect. There is no showing up players. The games are hard fought, intense, and well played.
No team has beaten a Buddy Stephens-coached team twice in the same season in his 10 seasons as head coach.
No. 1 EMCC will face No. 2 Arizona Western College on Dec. 3 at the Mississippi Bowl in Perkinston. It will be the Lions’ fifth appearance in the Mississippi Bowl. It will be their fourth appearance in a national championship game. No. 5 Northwest Mississippi C.C. will learn its bowl destination today.
EMCC faced a lot of challenges to win the school’s first National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship in 2011. Four of EMCC’s 12 wins came by eight points or less.
The smallest margin of victory for the 2013 and 2014 national championship teams was 17 points. That happened only once each season.
A season-ending brawl against Mississippi Delta C.C. ended the 2015 season prematurely. If the brawl didn’t happen, EMCC most likely is playing for a fifth-straight national championship.
That being said, EMCC has needed a rival. It has needed an opponent to push it to another level.
Stephens always has said EMCC’s success could happen at any of the other 13 MACJC institutions with the right coach and the right investment.
It makes sense Northwest Mississippi C.C. would be that rival. From a tradition standpoint, no MACJC North Division team has had a better history than the Rangers. Northwest Mississippi C.C. had won 19 of 20 series meetings before Stephens’ arrival.
While EMCC was serving its playoff ban in 2015, Northwest Mississippi C.C. won the national championship. A year later, EMCC beat Northwest Mississippi C.C. 38-30 to win the state championship in Scooba.
Northwest Mississippi C.C. has been making strides to close the gap. This season, the gap was officially closed. A loss to Itawamba C.C. early in the season figured to take Northwest Mississippi C.C. out of the MACJC North Division race. However, the Rangers won their next seven games to get back into the national title discussion.
EMCC’s first game against Northwest Mississippi C.C. this season was stunning. The Rangers won the line of scrimmage and scored the second-most points allowed by a Stephens-coached team. The 66 points the Rangers scored in the state championship game bumped that total to third.
It is hard to image the Lions — who posted a school-record five shutouts in 2014 — could allow 127 points to one team in two meetings.
However, Northwest Mississippi C.C. is that good. On the same field in 2013, EMCC earned a 79-7 victory.
Benjy Parker has brought Northwest Mississippi C.C. all the way back. The North Division title (shared with EMCC and ICC) was the school’s first since 2010.
EMCC has won 10 of 12 series meetings against Northwest Mississippi C.C. under Stephens. The other North Division series are even more one-sided — ICC (9-1), Northeast Mississippi C.C. (9-1), Holmes C.C. (10-0), Mississippi Delta C.C. (10-0), and Coahoma C.C. (10-0).
Now, EMCC will move on to play for a national championship.
The ugliness of the brawl is behind it. Recruiting continues at an impressive rate.
This might be the time for EMCC to string together four or five national championships in a row.
It’s a safe bet Northwest Mississippi C.C. will have a say about that going forward. That will be a good thing for EMCC.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.