December 4, 2017 10:34:49 AM
PERKINSTON -- When Lindsey Scott Jr. decided in August to leave LSU for a new junior college football home, one thing stood out about East Mississippi Community College.
"I knew very little at first," Scott said. "The more research I did, I found out the program was all about winning. When I came to that first practice, I saw the talent was here. It was like a national championship sure would look good on the resume. I chose here because I knew we could do that."
Scott delivered on that expectation Sunday afternoon at A.L. May Memorial Stadium, as No. 1 EMCC beat No. 2 Arizona Western College 31-28 to win the 10th Mississippi Bowl and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship.
"It feels really great to come here for a couple of months and to be able to put all of this together and for it to end like this," Scott said. "East Mississippi will always have a special place in my heart because of this season and this team. We had a special group. It feels great to help get this program back to where it belongs."
A Zachary, Louisiana, native, Scott will sign with another senior college later this month to cap his four-month junior college football career. He left the Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. campus with his team's offensive MVP honors as well as the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) Player of the Year award.
"This team just had a special bond," EMCC sophomore wide receiver Mike Williams said. "In the past some of the other teams made this look a whole lot easier. It takes a lot of hard work to win a championship. I feel fortunate to have played with Lindsey. He made us better every day in practice. He made us better in games. He made us champions."
Arizona Western was one of few teams with defensive answers for EMCC.
EMCC (11-1) had 246 yards of offense and 17 first downs. The main problem was getting the ball. Arizona Western (9-1) held a two-to-one advantage in time of possession, as the Matadors' ground game had the ball for 11 seconds shy of 40 minutes.
It was the lowest total offensive output in a game since the 2009 season. The Lions have been held below 300 yards twice this decade.
"It tells you what kind of football game this was," Stephens said. "We knew it would be a struggle because they have such an outstanding team. They match up with us speed wise in several areas. We don't see that very often."
EMCC scored first on a nine-play, 63-yard drive. The Lions ran the lead to 21-7 when Price capped an 11-play, 64-yard drive with his NJCAA-best 24th rushing touchdown from 8 yards.
Still, the Matadors held Price in check. The EMCC leading rusher finished with 43 yards and fell 11 yards shy of becoming the third's 1,000-yard rusher under Stephens.
The other two scores were set up by long kick returns from Brandon Rodgers and two penalties against Arizona Western.
"They gave us a lot of looks," Scott said. "We should have executed better, but we sure did hit some big plays. In a championship game, everything is magnified. I am glad we scored first. We needed that breathing room."
When EMCC saw its season-opening six-game winning streak snapped with a loss at Northwest Mississippi C.C., it looked like the team could be on the brink again. After winning the national title in 2013 and 2014, EMCC finished No. 7 in 2015 and No. 2 last season.
"A lot of soul-searching," said EMCC sophomore wide receiver Kirk Merritt, who made his way from Texas A&M with the same intentions as Scott. "We had to figure out who was going to put that extra effort in to get things right."
Scott found Merritt four times for touchdowns this season. None was bigger than an 18-yard hookup for a 28-14 lead late in the third quarter. Merritt found that extra burst of speed, made three men miss, and the dozens of senior college coaches in attendance went scrambling for their notebooks.
That two-play, 39-yard drive was set up by a 54-yard kick return by Rodgers.
"That felt great," Scott said. "They thought they were back in the game."
It was a chance-pass play, much like Scott and Merritt was a chance meeting on the football field. When the two met in Scooba, a lifetime friendship was formed and paved the way for a national championship to be won.
"It was everything I thought this would be," Scott said. "It is great to be able to come here and to say you finished the deal."
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Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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