By David Rosinski, East Mississippi Athletics
SCOOBA – The second-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College overcame their first deficit of the season by outscoring fifth-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College 38-14 in the second half en route to claiming a 45-28 victory over the visiting Bulldogs in Saturday’s MACJC State Semifinals played at EMCC’s Sullivan-Windham Field.
Bidding for their third state football title in five years, head coach Buddy Stephens’ 10-0 EMCC Lions will entertain fourth-ranked Jones County Junior College next Saturday (Nov. 9) for the 2013 MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 Championship. Kickoff on the Scooba campus is set for 2 p.m. The 9-1 JCJC Bobcats, regular-season champions of the MACJC’s South Division, posted a 49-21 triumph over visiting Itawamba Community College during Saturday’s other semifinal-round contest played in Ellisville.
In a rematch of the 2011 and 2009 MACJC state championship games both won by EMCC in Scooba, the visitors got on the scoreboard first when MGCCC running back Antwon Wells capped an eight-play, 65-yard drive by scoring from three yards out with 6:45 remaining in the opening quarter. The 7-0 Gulf Coast lead marked the Lions’ first deficit of the 2013 campaign.
A fourth-and-one stop by EMCC near midfield toward the end of the first quarter provided the necessary push for the Lions’ offense. A 24-yard pass completion from Dontreal Pruitt toJustin Mack on a fourth-and-two play was followed by an 18-yard run by Lakenderic Thomas. Two plays later, Pruitt knotted the score at 7-7 by finding C.J. Bates for a 5-yard scoring pass play within the first minute of the second quarter.
The only other points posted in the low-scoring first half of play came on James Booth’s 2-yard plunge over the goal line with just over a minute remaining in the half to cap the Bulldogs’ 12-play, 71-yard scoring drive.
With EMCC’s vaunted defense forcing two three-and-out possessions by Gulf Coast to open the second half, the Lions evened things up at 14-14 when Pruitt hit Mack for a 22-yard scoring strike at the 11:15 mark. In holding the Bulldogs to a scoreless third quarter, EMCC capitalized on Laderrick Roberts‘ second pass interception of the year by converting the takeaway into a 27-yard field goal by Drew White at the 4:45 mark. The 17-14 margin marked the Lions’ first lead of the game.
The end of the third quarter provided some dramatics that swung the momentum both ways within a matter of minutes. After the Lions forced another three-and-out from Gulf Coast, the resulting punt bounced and hit Bates, who was back for the return, and the Bulldogs recovered at the 36-yard line. Two subsequent rushes by Justin Brister gave the visitors a first-and-10 opportunity at the 15-yard line. Following a 6-yard loss on a fumbled snap by quarterback Colton Kane, the sophomore signal caller was then picked off by EMCC’s A.J. Stamps in the end zone with just under two minutes left in the period.
The Lions then drove 80 yards on 12 plays, capped by Pruitt’s 8-yard keeper around left end, to increase their lead to 24-14 with 13:04 still to play in the game. EMCC’s stout stopper unit came up huge again on Gulf Coast’s ensuing possession. Former University of Alabama transfer D.J. Pettway sacked and stripped Kane of the ball that was recovered by Jarran Reed at the 33-yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, Pruitt found Antoinne Adkins in the middle of the end zone to push the margin to 31-14 at the 12:16 mark.
With both teams combining for 42 total points in the final period, the two combatants traded touchdowns over the final seven minutes of play. After Kane hooked up with standout wide receiver Dhaquille Williams on an 18-yard scoring pass play to make it a two-score ballgame with 7:02 still left to play, the Lions countered with a 49-yard, Pruitt-to-Bates touchdown connection less than two minutes later to make the score 38-21 with 5:15 remaining on the game clock.
The preseason top-ranked Bulldogs, now 8-2, kept fighting and pulled to within 10 points again at the 1:56 mark when Kane hit Ishmel Morrow on a 5-yard scoring pass. With the Lions keeping the ball on the ground for their final 44 yards, Thomas followed a 37-yard burst up the middle with subsequent runs of five and two yards to account for the final 45-28 margin with just under a minute left in the game.
Thomas went over the 900-yard rushing mark on the year with his third straight 100-yard rushing effort. The former West Point High School product ran for 127 yards on 15 carries against the Bulldogs.
Under center for the Lions, Pruitt was 27-of-41 through the air for 304 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Laurel native’s top target on the day was Adkins, who had seven receptions for 70 yards. Mack followed with six catches for 98 yards, while Bates added five grabs for 85 yards.