September 7, 2011 10:10:00 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
SCOOBA -- There is little doubt the biggest victory of the opening week of the MACJC regular season belonged to the East Mississippi Community College football team.
The then-16th ranked Lions opened new Sullivan-Windham Field with a 34-30 upset of then-No. 2 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.
Now, the Lions, who climbed to No. 9 in this week''s poll, will look to build on that momentum when they play at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Hinds C.C.''s Joe Renfroe Stadium in Raymond. A local broadcast may be heard on WFCA-FM (107.9) with Jason Crowder and Glenn Beard on the call.
"This was such a huge win for us," said EMCC freshman free safety Justin Cox, of West Point. "It showed that all of the hard work during the summer and fall drills paid off. When we play together and believe in each other, we have a chance to be a really special team."
After back-to-back North Division championships and the 2009 state championship, the Lions started 0-3 and rallied to make the playoffs before losing to Copiah-Lincoln C.C. and finishing 5-5.
Coach Buddy Stephens, his staff, and the Lions have insisted this year can be the year EMCC returns to prominence. If Thursday night was any indication, a young squad is on the right track.
"This win taught us we can play with the big boys," said Stephens, who is in his fourth season. "When you can make the mistakes we did and still find a way to win the game that tells you you have a good team. Now it is back to work, making some corrections, and tightening some things up."
EMCC had a solid all-around game on offense. Quarterback Bo Wallace was 30 of 45 for 389 yards and three touchdowns. Wallace, an Arkansas State transfer, hit nine receivers and found three for scoring strikes.
Defensively, the Lions allowed 498 yards. However, Mississippi Gulf Coast scored three of four touchdowns in the final 5 minutes, 7 seconds of the first half.
"We knew we had to come out in the second half and made a stand," said EMCC sophomore cornerback Jeremy Cannon, of West Point. "They had a stretch there where they got back in the game. However, we never lost confidence. We knew we had to make some plays to turn the game back around."
With an energetic crowd of more than 4,000 looking on, the Lions stormed out of the gates. EMCC scored on three of its first four possessions to build a 20-0 advantage. The Lions forced three of their six takeaways in the onslaught.
"We wanted to win this one for the crowd," Cox said. "It was an unbelievable atmosphere. All during fall camp we were counting down to our first chance to play on this field. Everything was electric. The intensity allowed us to get off to the fast start."
Gulf Coast''s Raymond Cotton and James Gillum helped the Bulldogs, who slipped to 13th nationally this week, rally. The three consecutive scores forced a 20-all tie at halftime.
The Lions answered to open the second half with a 76-yard, seven-play scoring march. Wallace capped the drive with a 2-yard run. The drive was the only EMCC score not set up by a turnover.
In the second half, Cox had two of his three interceptions, while Quinn McClendon also had a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
After the fumble recovery, the Lions moved 46 yards for the game-winning points, a 24-yard scoring strike from Wallace to Rodney Davis. Cox''s final interception sealed the deal.
Now, it''s on to the next task at hand.
"The North Division games are the ones that count," Stephens said. "The first couple of games are measuring sticks. This is how you find out where you stand and what you need to work on. We are looking forward to the challenge Hinds will present."
Hinds C.C. opened the season with a 44-24 win against Itawamba C.C. last week in Raymond. Hinds is in the third season of coach Gene Murphy''s second stint as coach.
The Eagles won six state championships in Murphy''s first tenure as coach. Since his return, Hinds is 9-10, including a 5-4 finish last season.
Hinds racked up 519 yards of offense in the victory. The Eagles rushed for 377 yards, including a monster night from sophomore back Jeremy Palmer. A Puckett native, Palmer ran 19 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomore quarterback Deon Anthony was 10 of 24 for 142 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Anthony also ran 12 times for 113 yards and another score.
Hinds scored on four of its first five possessions to build a 24-3 halftime advantage. The Indians rallied in the third quarter to tie the game at 24.
A 16-yard run by Darryan Ragsdale gave Hinds the lead for good in the closing minute of the quarter.
In the opening week, EMCC, Northeast Mississippi C.C., and Northwest Mississippi C.C. were the lone North Division winners.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter