November 14, 2012 10:42:46 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to perfecting the hurry-up spread offense at East Mississippi Community College, timing is just about everything.
This season, the Lions looked to a new leader as freshman quarterback Quez Johnson took over the reigns.
While the Lions were unable to defend their 2011 national or state championships, Johnson certainly delivered as EMCC spent most of the season ranked among the state's elite.
"We had a good season but it was not a great season," Johnson said. "At EMCC, we are supposed to play for championships and we fell short of our goals."
Ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first month of the season, the Lions won their first eight games before losing the final game of the regular season to Itawamba Community College.
A week later, EMCC lost by one point again -- this time a 47-46 heart-breaker to Copiah-Lincoln in the opening round of the MACJC state playoffs.
The season ended officially this week when the 8-2 Lions were not chosen for one of 10 postseason bowl games, sponsored by the NJCAA.
"We had a lot of new players on this team," Johnson said. "It took a little while to get everybody on the same page. We played really well for four or five games in a row and then struggled there at the end for whatever reason."
While EMCC will not play in a bowl game for only the second time in Buddy Stephens' five seasons as head coach, postseason awards are still rolling in for the Lions.
Johnson, a former standout at Starkville High School, was named the Region XXIII Offensive Most Valuable Player and was also chosen as the MACJC North Division Offensive Back Most Valuable Player.
A 6-foot-1, 225-pound freshman signal-caller, Johnson ranks among the top five nationally averaging 284.6 passing yards per game with 27 touchdowns. A two-time national offensive player of the week this season, Johnson completed 59.3 percent of his passes (227-of-383) for 2,846 yards, with only nine interceptions.
"It was an incredible experience this season," Johnson said. "We had high expectations because of the (2011) national championship. We never got down or frustrated. We took everybody's best challenge week in and week out."
Other EMCC honorees included wide receiver Corey Smith, defensive lineman Za'Darius Smith, and defensive backs Justin Cox and Shaquille Fluker earning all-region honors, while wide receiver Nick Brassell was first-team all-state, and the trio of offensive lineman Avery Gennesy, defensive lineman Jarran Reed and linebacker Christian Russell being chosen second-team all-state.
Meanwhile, Johnson becomes the fourth EMCC player to earn region most valuable player honors in the past five seasons. He joins fellow quarterbacks Bo Wallace (2011) and Randall Mackey (2008 and 2009) with that distinction.
Smith had 51 receptions for 733 yards, with nine touchdowns. Smith had 47 total tackles, with six sacks, one interception, two pass break-ups and four forced fumbles. Cox, a Mississippi State University commitment, had 52 total tackles, with six interceptions and 10 pass break-ups, while Fluker, a University of Georgia commitment, had 34 total tackles, with five interceptions and four pass break-ups.
Former Aberdeen High School standout Rashad Pargo earned second-team all-state honors at wide receiver for Itawamba Community College.
Co-Lin wins championship
Copiah-Lincoln Community College knocked off Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College 41-37 Saturday in Perkinston to win the MACJC state championship.
For Co-Lin (9-2), it was their first state championship since 1985. The Wolfpack last played for the state title in 2010.
Much like Co-Lin's 47-46 first-round win over East Mississippi Community College, the Wolfpack had to rally late.
Co-Lin took its first lead of the game with 7:52 left in regulation on Marquis Hayes' third touchdown catch of the game.
The Wolfpack actually scored on back-to-back possessions to build a 41-31 lead before hanging on in the end.
Quarterback Chandler Rogers completed 23-of-31 pass attempts for 358 yards, with four touchdowns and only one interception.
With the victory, Co-Lin will play in its first Mississippi Bowl. The Wolfpack faces Garden City (Kan.) on Dec. 2 in Biloxi.
Iowa Western finishes No. 1
In the final NJCAA Top 20 for the regular season, Iowa Western Community College is No. 1.
The nation's other two unbeatens -- Butler Community College (Kan.) and ASA College (Brooklyn, N.Y.) follow at second and third.
Inside the state, Co-Lin ranked seventh, Gulf Coast ranked 10th, Northwest ranked 13th and EMCC ranked 16th.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter