SCOOBA — Sullivan-Windham Field, the home of East Mississippi Community College football, went from the loudest place in Kemper County to library silent in the span of 15 minutes.
No. 3 EMCC cut a 42-22 halftime deficit against No. 7 Northwest to just six points by virtue of a momentum-swinging third quarter, and the Lions had a manageable fourth down inside Rangers territory as the horn blew to end the period.
EMCC elected to punt, hoping to pin Northwest deep. The Lions never scored again.
Northwest (5-1) added two more touchdowns in a fourth quarter that put a definitive end to a seven-year, 36-game home winning streak for EMCC (4-2) and an effective end to any national title hopes the Lions still held.
“They were ready to come out and play,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “We got our butt whooped.”
The Lions’ defense was especially hit hard, giving up 572 total yards of offense and three scores of at least 55 yards. In the second quarter alone, Northwest scored 35 points to pull away to a 20-point lead at the half.
EMCC brought the game within six points when Jason Brownlee caught a 24-yard touchdown pass and Zias Perryman ran in a score from 3 yards out, bringing the Lions within 42-36.
“We were running the same stuff we were running in the first half,” Stephens said. “We were just executing.”
With 56 seconds left in the quarter, EMCC’s CJ Terrell picked off a pass from Northwest quarterback Jack Walker at the Rangers’ 48-yard line, giving the Lions the ball with a chance to take the lead.
But EMCC managed just five yards on the ensuing three plays and handed the ball back to Northwest a few seconds into the fourth quarter.
“If we come out at the end of the third quarter, and we take that ball down and score, different ballgame,” Stephens said. “I thought we lost a little bit of our intensity offensively and defensively right there, and I think that was the true turning point in the ballgame.”
The Rangers and Lions traded punts to start the fourth quarter, but Northwest went 79 yards on just six plays for a quick touchdown drive, keyed by a 26-yard run from Walker on third down.
On EMCC’s next possession, quarterback Connor Neville fired four straight incomplete passes from midfield, and Thursday’s outcome was sealed: EMCC lost at home for the first time since a 47-46 defeat at the hands of Copiah-Lincoln on Nov. 3, 2012.
“That’s a thorough butt-whooping that East Mississippi took tonight, and we’re gonna have to learn from it,” Stephens said.
Now with two losses, EMCC is very unlikely to finish with a top-two ranking and appear in the national title game, and Stephens acknowledged as much.
“I think that’s over, and I think we’ve gotta go on to the next thing,” Stephens said. “But again, one game at a time. Next ballgame is against the team that beat this team, and we still have playoff contention. We still have the ability to play in the playoffs, state championship, go to a bowl game. The No. 1 thing is our kids graduating, our kids getting scholarships when they leave, and the rest of it will handle itself.”
Stephens made it clear Thursday’s loss wasn’t a program-defining moment — just another teaching moment against a strong opponent.
“You knew it was gonna be a tough ballgame,” Stephens said. “It’s always a good day to be a Lion, but today just wasn’t as good.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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