SCOOBA — Jason Brownlee smiled like he knew the question was coming.
No. 5 East Mississippi Community College led 17-0 with just less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter Thursday against East Central and the EMCC sophomore receiver tried something unconventional in an attempt to score his third receiving touchdown of the game.
He caught a pass from backup quarterback Jamari Jones, raced inside the East Central 5-yard line and tried to hurdle Warriors defensive back Fred McGee.
“He didn’t go low, and I jumped up,” Brownlee said. “He just met me right there.”
Brownlee lost the football and it squirted out of play through the side of the end zone, resulting in a touchback and handing the ball back to the Warriors.
“I should have just run him over,” Brownlee said. “I just wanted to try something.”
Brownlee’s mistake didn’t ruin a good night for him or for the Lions, who won 24-0 to improve to 4-1 on the season. But it was the perfect example of EMCC’s sloppiness, a problem that plagued the Lions on Thursday and has been present all season.
“Finish runs, not worry about trying to jump over the top of everybody and hold it with both hands,” head coach Buddy Stephens said. “That goes back to me. That’s my fault. … Those mistakes were on me. The offense did what we asked them to do. I thought when we weren’t doing those things, we were clicking pretty good.”
The Lions weathered two interceptions and a pair of fumbles — Zias Perryman lost one as well as Brownlee — to pile up 488 total yards of offense and take a commanding early lead.
Josh Smith opened the scoring on the Lions’ first drive with a 29-yard field goal and Brownlee beat an East Central defender over the top less than three minutes later for a 32-yard score from Neville.
Late in the second quarter, EMCC kept possession deep in East Central territory when Neville found Rashad Eades on a comeback route on fourth down. On 3rd-and-goal from the 10, Neville tossed a screen to Brownlee, and the receiver did the rest, putting EMCC up 17-0.
Brownlee credited the knowledge and talent the former Washington State passer brings to the team.
“He’s got a lot of experience,” Brownlee said. “He teaches us stuff that we don’t know … It’s a blessing playing with him.”
EMCC kept its 17-0 advantage through a sluggish third quarter featuring a missed field goal by each team.
In the fourth quarter, though, chaos reigned. The Lions and Warriors combined for a whopping seven turnovers, including a sequence of three straight plays resulting in a giveaway.
First, Perryman fumbled into the end zone with 14:29 left in the game. East Central gave it right back as the Lions’ EJ Woods recovered a JD Martin fumble at the Warriors’ 19-yard line. Then Neville tried for a score and was intercepted in the end zone by East Central’s Desmond Williams.
But the Lions weren’t hurt by the barrage of giveaways, because the Warriors made up for it and then some. East Central punted after Neville’s pick, but freshman quarterback Holman Edwards threw an interception on each of the following three Warrior drives.
All three picks found the waiting hands of freshman defensive back Kel Williams, who became the first EMCC player to intercept three passes in a single game since Justin Cox in 2011 against Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“If you’re doing your job as a DB, stuff’s gonna come your way,” said Williams, a Starkville High product.
He acknowledged that while the defense certainly did its job, posting its 23rd shutout in Stephens’ 12 years as head coach, the offense was lacking, and that poses significant concerns going forward.
“We left some points on the board,” Williams said. “We played good but not great. We gave up too many rushing yards.”
Despite the misplays, Williams noted, EMCC is still accomplishing its one major goal, and that’s enough.
“We did what we had to do,” Williams said. “We won the game.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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