September 13, 2013 10:48:02 AM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
SCOOBA -- East Mississippi Community College freshman running back Preston Baker hobbled back to the team's postgame huddle Thursday night.
With a combination of fatigue, cramps, and a minor nick on the game's final play that slowed the speedster's walk, he finally paused and put an arm around a teammate in time for the team prayer.
A surprise then took place as the prayer ended and the team sang Happy Birthday to Baker.
A smile broke out on the face of the former Starkville High School standout. His summation of the events leading up to No. 5 EMCC's 69-0 victory against Southwest Mississippi C.C. at Sullivan-Windham Field capped a great day.
"It has been a great birthday," said Baker, still wincing with a little pain. "I had some classes, had a few presents around lunch, answered a few tweets in the afternoon, and caught a nap. Tonight, I came out here and played for a 3-0 football team. Now that makes for a special day."
Baker celebrated his big day by catching two touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Dontreal Pruitt. Several Lions got in on the action as EMCC dismantled a third-straight South Division opponent to start the season.
EMCC scored on 8 of 9 first-half possessions and led 55-0 at halftime. EMCC then stretched it to touchdowns on 10 of 11 possessions to achieve the largest margin of victory in school history. The Lions missed the record for most points in a game (75) when they turned the ball over on downs at the SMCC 3-yard line in the fourth quarter.
"The challenge with this team is to have them mentally ready to play each week," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "They will always watch film and they will always be prepared. Physically they will always be ready. It is all about staying mentally focused when we have a lesser opponent."
EMCC has won 10 straight regular-season games against the South Division. It has outscored opponents 177-6 this season.
EMCC gained 658 yards of total offense -- a second-straight week with more than 600 yards. It allowed 87 yards of total offense -- a second straight week with less than 100 yards.
"We are having a lot of fun out there," EMCC sophomore defensive back Allen Sentimore said. "Everybody is flying to the football and making plays. The defense felt like it let the team down at the end of last year. This is our chance to make up for that."
Pruitt matched a school record with seven touchdown passes to give him 13 for the season. The former Laurel High School standout was 22 of 27 for 310 yards. He also rushed for a score. Nine receivers caught a pass from Pruitt or Todd Mays. Former Heritage Academy standout Brandon Bell found the end zone twice, along with Baker.
The offense had eight scoring drives of less than two minutes, and five drives of less than a minute, while racking up 30 first downs.
While the passing attack has always put up pinball-type numbers under Stephens, a major storyline in the last two victories is back-to-back 300-yard rushing performances. The Lions ran the ball 38 times for 323 yards Thursday night.
Former West Point High standout Lakenderic Thomas (10 carries, 112 yards) topped 100 yards for a second straight week and scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the season. Baker has three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing).
"I gained one (touchdown) on him tonight," said Baker, of his friendly competition with Thomas. "I just feel really blessed to be in this situation on this team. It is pretty amazing when we get going on offense, the destruction we can cause."
A year ago, EMCC won its first eight games and a fourth North Division championship in five seasons. The North Division title defense begins Thursday at Mississippi Delta C.C. Last season ended with back-to-back one-point losses that denied the program a chance to repeat as national or state champions and an appearance in a bowl game.
"This is a championship team," Thomas said. "We aren't going to leave any doubt this time around."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter