PERKINSTON — East Mississippi is heading back to the state championship game.
Behind a big third quarter along with a stiff rushing attack, the No. 14-ranked Lions got past No. 12-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast 38-27 in the semifinal round of the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference at George Sekul Field on Saturday night.
East Mississippi (7-3) will travel to third-ranked Northwest Mississippi (10-0) for the MACCC State Championship next Saturday.
The Rangers beat EMCC 38-21 back on Sept. 29. The Lions will be seeking their ninth state championship and first since 2018. EMCC is 8-0 in state title games.
“I think we came out and hit a couple of big plays and decided to run the ball,” East Mississippi coach Buddy Stephens said. “We’ve struggled all year to find the right recipe to run the ball and tonight we did a really good job of executing.”
EMCC drove right down the field on the opening drive of the game going 75 yards in seven plays that was capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run by Starkville High School graduate Amariyon Howard with 13:09 left in the first quarter.
Gulf Coast tied the game at 7 on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Pat McQuaide to Ramone Bradley with 11:13 left in the first half.
After an interception, McQuaide connected with Bradley from 31 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead with 10:44 left in the second quarter.
EMCC tied the game at 14 on a 4-yard run by Columbus product Ethan Conner with 8:48 remaining in the first half.
The third quarter was all EMCC as the Lions scored 17 points highlighted by a Conner 40-yard touchdown run on third down to give the Lions a 21-14 lead. Cole Arthur added a 26-yard field goal and Howard had his second 3-yard touchdown run as time expired in the third quarter to give EMCC a 31-14 lead.
Howard finished the night with 61 yards rushing on 13 carries with two touchdowns to lead EMCC.
“It was tied going into halftime, so we came out and decided to pound the ball down the field and that’s what we did,” Howard said. “We got three good running backs, so our rotation is solid and kept it rolling by getting the ball down the field and that’s what we did tonight.”
The Lions totaled 301 yards rushing. EMCC defense intercepted McQuaide four times.
Eli Anderson added a 4-yard touchdown run with 8:39 left in the fourth quarter to give the Lions a 38-14 lead.
“Our offensive staff did a great job of preparing this week and the guys did a good job of executing the game plan. Defense played well and did a good job of finishing plays,” Stephens said. “Now we get to play the ring game and try to get another one.”
McQuaide added a 1-yard touchdown run and threw a 11-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter for Gulf Coast to cut the lead to 38-27. The Elon transfer passed for 366 yards to lead the Bulldogs (6-4).
“Third quarter was the difference, and we couldn’t get anything going. This team has done well all year long coming out of halftime and tonight they flipped the script,” Gulf Coast coach Jack Wright said. “Too little too late to get in a rhythm and made too many mistakes in the passing game tonight.”
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