October 12, 2012 11:18:46 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
BOONEVILLE -- After fourth-ranked East Mississippi Community College ran its win streak to 19 games with a 49-0 rout of outmanned Northeast Mississippi Community College on Thursday, fifth-year EMCC coach Buddy Stephens offered an observation.
"Our defense is really, and I do mean really, good," Stephens said.
If anyone would argue, they must have missed the latest victory. A season ago, EMCC also won in this stadium, but calculators were needed to figure out total yards in a 63-35 finish.
"I have never seen anything like this defense," said EMCC sophomore defensive back Frank Richardson Jr., a former New Hope High School standout. "When a ball is thrown in the air, it is like there are five guys there waiting for it to come down and that can be anywhere on the field.
"I have played football my entire life and never seen anything quite like what we are doing right now."
While the final score reflects what happened at Tiger Stadium, there are some other numbers that could support Stephens' claim. EMCC (7-0, 4-0 MACJC North Division) posted its third shutout, and second in as many weeks. The Lions have gone 10 straight quarters without allowing a point, and 22 of 28. This season, EMCC has allowed 45 points. It has scored more than that total five times.
"No. 1 defense in the nation, and it is not close," EMCC sophomore running back Xavier Hogan said. "I am glad I go into battle with those guys each week."
While any national title contender must play some defense, the hardcore nature of the EMCC's attack is impressive. The Lions play like each possession is a dire situation and meal money might hang in the balance.
"Even though we won all of our games last year, the defense was not what it could have been," said EMCC sophomore linebacker D.J. Jordan, a former Starkville High standout. "We changed all of that during the offseason. We challenged each other to be a new-look defense. The first (national) title made us hungry for more."
Last week in a 35-0 victory against Holmes C.C., EMCC intercepted three passes in the final 16 minutes. A 7-0 lead in the third quarter turned into reserves running loose in the closing seconds.
This week, the Lions did all the damage early. Justin Cox, Shaquille Fluker, and Richardson each had interceptions. Richardson also had a forced fumble and fumble recovery. All of it came in the first quarter.
An interception by West Point's Brandon Edwards in the fourth quarter gave EMCC a plus-five advantage in the turnover department.
"The defense is playing together as one unit," Richardson said. "Our coaches give us the best plan each week. It is like we knew what play was coming before Northeast even ran it. Our goal as a defensive unit is to win every play."
That mind-set was never more evident than in the late stages of the second quarter, when NMCC drove 79 yards to the EMCC 1-yard line. After a 51-yard pass play from Matt Lipham to Jay Jones set the Tigers up on the 5, a second-down rush moved the ball to the 1.
"After they got to the 1, our defense just got downright mean," Hogan said.
On the next two plays, the Lions stuffed the middle with the combination of Jordan, Christian Russell, Jarran Reed, and Antonio Wells denying the end zone. Northeast (2-5, 1-3) also failed to connect on a 30-yard field goal in that same period.
"Every yard is personal. Every first down is personal," EMCC sophomore defensive back Jason Yarbor said. "The end zone is ours, and we don't plan on the other team getting there."
Against Holmes, EMCC allowed 47 yards in the second half. On Thursday, Northeast ran 34 plays in the second half for 38 yards.
Wells also had three of EMCC's eight sacks. Cox had three pass break-ups to go with his interception. Richardson also had a pass deflection and sack.
"The only negative is we are asking too much of the defense," Stephens said. "If we can have more offensive consistency, we can give the defense more of a rest during games. However, that is simply a goal, not a concern. Trust me, no part of this defense is a concern."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter