October 7, 2012 1:08:03 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
SCOOBA -- When East Mississippi Community College really needed a play Saturday afternoon, sophomore defensive back Shaquille Fluker made one.
Sophomore defensive backs Jason Yarbor and Justin Cox followed suit.
No. 5 EMCC forced three interceptions in the final 16 minutes Saturday to pull away for a 35-0 victory against Holmes C.C. in a MACJC North Division battle on Homecoming at Sullivan-Windham Stadium.
"All of those ball drills finally paid off," Yarbor said. "Man, our hands were hurting so bad when this game started. We were doing those drills all week. At this point in the season, it is all about whatever it takes to win a game."
EMCC improved to 6-0 and 3-0 in division play. The Lions have won 18 straight games, including 11 straight in division games. The unbeaten list in the North Division has only two members: EMCC and No. 4 Northwest Mississippi C.C.
"They really had our full attention coming into this game," Yarbor said. "They easily could have beaten us last year. It was like this game had turned into some sort of rivalry or something. We had heard their players talking in the newspapers. It was time to come out and take care of business."
EMCC won last season's meeting, 56-35 in Goodman. Those in attendance Saturday must have felt like they were in the wrong stadium. A 1-yard touchdown run by Rodriguez Moore broke a scoreless tie with 2 minutes, 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
"After the game, we made our offensive players stand up and give the defensive players a standing ovation," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "They really saved our tail today. It was all about the defense. Yes, team win and all of that. But on this day, man the defense was really really god."
Protecting that 7-0 lead, Fluker intercepted quarterback Dennis Robertson on the next possession. The Bulldogs wilted under the assault of a defensive unit ready to put the hammer down.
"Man, it was like a pinball game out there," Fluker said. "Boom, boom, boom. Whatever you can do, I can do better. Once I got my pick, Yarbor got his. And then Justin got his. We were on fire there."
The Lions couldn't covert the first two interceptions. However, the floodgates opened in the final 9:57, as EMCC scored four touchdowns. Quarterback Quez Johnson hit Nick Brassell on a 32-yard score, Moore on a 33-yard score, and Martay Mattox on a 16-yard score. Xavier Hogan added a 4-yard touchdown run.
"I think Quez finally got ticked off there in the fourth quarter," Stephens said. "They were talking trash and pushing him around. Finally, he had enough. We just got get a lot better offensively. We are going to do things the right way and play better or we are going to do things with different players."
Stephens had no such critique for the defense. Holmes was averaging less than 200 yards per division game this season. The Bulldogs (3-3, 3-1) didn't find answers Saturday.
In the second half, the EMCC defense allowed 47 yards, two first downs, one completed forward pass, and forced three of the team's four turnovers.
"This was a hard, competitive game," Yarbor said. "We could not slack up because we didn't have any points (offensively) to fall back on. We really don't play games like this around here. Our goal was to totally dominate. It was a good thing that we did."
A similar first-quarter stat line was a foreshadowing of what type of game was unfolding.
In that quarter, the Lions had two dropped interceptions, two turnovers and a blocked punt.
"We really struggled to find a rhythm," said Mattox, who had missed the previous two games with a high ankle sprain. "We have to learn how to start games better. We can't let the other team throw the first punch. We will find a way to get better. At least we are learning from wins."
The teams battled through an even first half. Of 19 first-half possessions by both teams, 10 ended with punts and five others ended on downs. The second half started in a similar fashion before EMCC finally found daylight.
The Lions moved 62 yards on five plays for the first score. Moore carried four times on the march. A 46-yard pick-and-catch from Johnson to Billy Shed shifted the momentum and finally got a roar from the capacity crowd.
"The coaches told us we had to go hard this week, in case the offense started slow," Fluker said. "Our goal was to not let them cross the goal-line no matter what it took. Once we started turning them over, the game was ours."
EMCC's defense found another level in the second half en route to its second shutout of the season. Whether it was a tackle for loss by Christian Russell, a quarterback hurry by Quinn McClendon, or a monster sack by Za'Darius Smith, the Lions were ready.
Holmes only ran 29 plays in the second half, and only 13 of those netted positive yardage.
"Pitching the shutout is our job," EMCC sophomore linebacker D.J. Jordan said. "That is what they put us our here to do. And on this day, I think we were pretty good at it."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter