SCOOBA — Fending off an upset bid by Northeast Mississippi on Saturday involved a very simple change in the menu for East Mississippi’s sixth-ranked football team: Stop serving turnovers and give the Tigers a big helping of defense with a side of Jamari Jones.
It added up to an ugly but oddly satisfying 34-19 win for the Lions at Sullivan-Windham Field.
EMCC turned over the ball seven times, including three lost fumbles. But Jones rebounded from throwing four interceptions to complete 18 of 26 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown and rush for 83 yards on just 8 carries to power an offense that outgained Northeast 426-309 in total offense.
“We’ve got to do a better job of hanging onto the ball,” a relieved EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “We did a lot of things badly today, and our kids overcame some of that.”
But the turning point in the game came when it looked as if Northeast was going to pad a 19-14 lead. Following Jones’ third interception, the Tigers drove to the EMCC 5 before Keyshawn rter, the visitors drove to the EMCC 5-yard line following Jones’ third interception.
But Keyshawn Lawrence shot the gap untouched and stuffed Gary Banks for a 4-yard loss to force fourth down, and Starkville High School grad Kel Williams blocked the ensuing 26-yard field goal try by John Ellis Murrah with 12:14 left in the game.
From there, the Lions scored three unanswered touchdowns during the fourth quarter.
“That was huge,” Stephens said. “I think that took the momentum. After that, it was all over.”
Stephens noted Williams had been angry over two pass interference calls against him in the end zone on a drive that also included sideline infractions and a personal foul against the Lions. After the second pass interference, J.T. Moore scored from a yard out for the Tigers’ only offensive touchdown of the game to put them ahead 19-14. The interception on EMCC’s ensuing drive threatened to let the Tigers get out of reach, making holding them to a field goal try, then blocking the try crucial for the Lions.
“He plays really, really hard,” Stephens said of Williams. “That was the turning point in the game.”
But it almost wasn’t. With Jones running for 15 and 14 yards on the next drive, the Lions had first-and-10 at the Northeast 32 when Perryman was hit hard, knocking the ball free. Itl went several feet in the air, up for grabs, but EMCC held possession. Bullet dodged, Jones found Kevin Barnett for an 18-yard touchdown moments later to pull the Lions within 20-19.
Then EMCC turned the tables on the Tigers in the turnover battle. First, on third-and-12, Northeast quarterback Max Favre — Brett’s nephew — threw into a crowd. Cam McCullum picked it off and returned it 34 yards to the right front pylon to push the lead to 27-19 with 8:50 to go.
On the third play of the next series, the 5-foot-9 Favre skied to gather in a high snap but could not reset himself to execute the handoff to Banks. Trey Laing fell on it for the Lions, and, five plays later — including runs of 11 and 17 yards by — Jones Perryman scored from 3 yards out toc ap the scoring with 6:18 to go.
“I’m so proud,” Stephens said. “I was telling the guys you know you have a really good team when you look in their eyes after a 34-19 win, and they’re not satisfied. I really believe we’re on the right track.”
The Lions made it look easy at the start of the game. Zach Patterson brought the opening kickoff out to midfield, and the Lions marched 50 yards on eight plays with Perryman’s 3-yard TD run getting EMCC on the board just 2:45 into the game.
Jones’ first interception, picked off by Northeast’s Tony Washington in the right flat, was returned 21 yards for a touchdown. The PAT bounced off the upright, and it was 7-6 Lions.
After an EMCC three-and-out, the Tigers moved 42 yards on nine plays before Murrah’s 41-yard field goal handed the Lions their first deficit of the season at 9-7.
The Lions immediately fumbled to open the third quarter, and the Tigers capitalized on their fifth turnover with a 27-yard field goal by Murrah. Amariyon Howard capped a seven-play 76-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring burst at the 6:46 mark to take a 14-12 lead.
Perryman finished with 101 yards on 20 carries, while Duke Miller led EMCC receivers with 88 yards on 4 receptions.
“I’m extremely happy with how the guys continued to play, not happy with some of the execution,” Stephens said. “My message to them on the sideline was just keep playing, play the next play, and good things will happen.”
The Lions have a short week before facing Coahoma Community College at 7 p.m. Thursday in Scooba.
East Mississippi 34, Northeast Mississippi 19
Northeast Mississippi (1-5, 1-2) 9 0 10 0 — 19
East Mississippi (6-0, 4-0) 7 0 7 20 — 34
EM — Zias Perryman 3 run (Peyton Rodgers kick), 12:17
NM — Tony Washingont 21 interception return (kick failed), 7:55
NM — John Ellis Murrah 41 FG, 2:35
NM — Murrah 27 FG, 9:32
EM — Amariyon Howard 1 run (Rodgers kick), 6:46
EM — Kevin Barnett 18 pass from Jamari Jones (Rodgers kick)9:53
EM — Cam McCullum 34 interception return (Rodgers kick), 8:50
EM — Perryman 3 run (Rodgers kick), 6:18