October 12, 2012 11:25:50 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
BOONEVILLE -- The dream matchup is set.
Fourth-ranked East Mississippi Community College and sixth-ranked Northwest Mississippi C.C. will meet next Thursday night in Scooba for the MACJC North Division championship. The winner also will remain alive for the junior college football national championship.
To make sure that battle kept its significance, both schools had to win Thursday night. EMCC did its part by scoring four touchdowns in the first quarter to earn a 49-0 victory against Northeast Mississippi C.C. in a MACJC North Division game at Tiger Stadium.
"Not one of our guys said anything about Northwest this week, and I am so proud of that," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "As coaches, we are always focused on the game ahead. Sometimes, players, their family, their friends, have a more difficult time doing that.
"I am excited with the effort that we gave here. Now, we can go back, break down the film, get on the practice field, and get ready for what you might call a big game."
Any fears of an emotional letdown disappeared quickly, as EMCC (7-0, 4-0 division) forced four turnovers in the first 8 minutes, 11 seconds and turned all four takeaways into points.
"Our defense is crazy," EMCC sophomore running back Xavier Hogan said. "Our defense is called the no-fly zone. If you throw on them, they intercept it. If you run on them, they will make you lay it on the ground. They made sure this game was over before everybody got loosened up."
After struggling on offense the past couple of weeks, Stephens wanted to see a little more. The fifth-year coach realized his goal. Now he wants to see a lot more next week.
"Northeast gave us some layups and we responded with slam dunks," Stephens said. "I am still concerned we really only had two, maybe three, legitimate drives. We just have to keep polishing things up. I think we are close. You can't criticize the effort. We just have to find a way to get better.
"I liken our offense to a NASCAR race car. Once we get it running right, it will definitely be good enough to win the race."
EMCC scored three of its first four touchdowns on offense in the first 11 minutes, 35 seconds. The other was a 27-yard interception return by former New Hope High School standout Frank Richardson Jr.. The Lions also scored four touchdowns last week in the fourth quarter to earn a 35-0 victory against Holmes C.C. In the past two weeks, it has taken the Lions 21:52 to score eight touchdowns.
"This was really a statement game for us," Hogan said. "We wanted to make sure people knew that last year was not a fluke. I think a lot of people were down on this team the last couple of weeks because of how we played.
"The bottom line is our problems on offense had nothing to do with anything being done by another team. We just had to execute better. I think we are getting that rhythm that is going to make us a dangerous team in the playoffs."
After punting on its initial possession, the Lions had a 20-yard scoring drive thanks to an interception by Justin Cox. Quarterback Quez Johnson, who threw for a season-low 108 yards, tossed the first of his two touchdown passes to Billy Shed from 7 yards.
After a fumble recovery by Richardson, the Lions needed one play to score. This time, Johnson hit Nick Brassell in the corner of the end zone for a 21-yard pass.
Two plays later, Richardson found paydirt for his first defensive score.
Shaquille Fluker had the next interception. This time, the Lions moved 67 yards on 10 plays before Johnson scored on a 3-yard rush.
Northeast (2-5, 1-3) had run 10 plays and trailed 28-0.
"Sometimes we take things for granted on offense," EMCC freshman running back Lakenderic Thomas said. "It seems like we punt or score and then we are right back out there just minutes later. Our defense is fun to watch. I am very glad we play with them and not against them."
EMCC's best drive covered 82 yards and came in the opening stages of the second half. Two facemask penalties aided the Lions' cause. Johnson again capped the drive with a 3-yard run.
Backup quarterback Dontreal Pruitt led two fourth-quarter scoring drives. He found Martay Mattox on a 13-yard pass and also handed off to Hogan on a 2-yard run.
"Dontreal did some really nice things out there tonight," Stephens said. "That was good to see."
Northwest clinched a playoff berth with a 32-20 win victory against Holmes C.C. The Rangers (6-0, 5-0) clinched since they have played one more division game. EMCC can punch its playoff ticket with a victory against Northwest or in the regular-season finale at Itawamba C.C.
As the final seconds ticked off the stadium clock Thursday, the countdown for Northwest began.
"I thought our practices this week were through the roof," Hogan said. "Everybody was on the same page. Next week is the biggest game of the season and it could decide everything. However, it wouldn't mean anything if we didn't come here and take care of business. We did that and we did that quickly."
n Itawamba C.C. 31, Coahoma C.C. 28: At Fulton, Courtney Gladney rushed for a career-high 165 yards and two touchdowns and helped set up a game-winning 27-yard field goal by Tyler Jackson a time expired to help the Indians hold on.
"This was a big win for us," ICC coach Jon Williams said. "The guys showed a lot of heart to be able to battle back and find a way to win the ballgame."
Gladney, who missed the past three game due to injury, broke free for runs of 22 and 11 yards on the Indians (4-3, 2-2 MACJC North) final drive of the game to set Jackson up for his kick that handed the Tigers (1-6, 0-4 MACJC North) their second-straight last-second loss.
"I thought Gladney battling through his injury really inspired the guys to dig a little deeper tonight," Williams said. "We've been needing someone to step up and be a leader and tonight we got that out of our sophomore running back."
Former Aberdeen High School standout Rashad Pargo caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Griff Loftis in the fourth quarter to give the Indians a 28-21 lead.
ICC will travel to Booneville on Saturday to take on Northeast Mississippi C.C.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter