November 3, 2013 12:08:32 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
SCOOBA -- At halftime of the MACJC semifinal playoff game No. 2 East Mississippi Community College and No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C., the Mississippi Gulf Coast band played Queen's rock song "We are Champions."
It turns out the band was wrong.
In the latest installment of the state's best junior college rivalry, EMCC had the better of it, scoring four fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 45-28 victory before a packed house at Sullivan-Windham Field.
EMCC (10-0) will play host to No. 4 Jones Junior College (9-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday for the state championship. Jones J.C. beat Itawamba C.C. 49-21 on Saturday.
The game had near perfect weather conditions. However, the heat was extremely high on the field. Having not played since 2011, the rivals made sure to do a tremendous amount of talking to catching up on old times.
"I don't think Gulf Coast realized you have to come here and play us for 60 minutes," EMCC sophomore running back Lakenderic Thomas said. "They were doing the talking and making gestures to the stands and all of that. If you come here and play us, you have to be ready to compete for four quarters. You just can't come out here and make all of that noise and think that will last."
The teams had a couple of minor altercations during pregame warmups. The lack of love carried over to the field where Mississippi Gulf Coast players made multiple celebratory taunting gestures in the first half and tried to engage the crowd on multiple occasions.
The early buzz worked as Mississippi Gulf Coast scored on the first possession and led 14-7 at halftime. It was the first time all year EMCC had trailed in a game.
"You could tell they were in our head bad," EMCC sophomore defensive back A.J. Stamps said. "We normally don't let those things bother us. However, they just kept going on and on. It is amazing they didn't do all of that in the second half."
Interestingly enough, the teams played a game without any targeting or late hits. The teams were only called for two personal fouls, including one face mask. Overall, the teams combined for 14 penalties.
"I don't think you can lose sight of the fact that this was two good football teams and what a great game they played," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "Both teams had a good crowd. The bands were loud. There was a tremendous amount of energy on both the field and in the stands."
EMCC and Mississippi Gulf Coast have met seven times in Stephens' six seasons as head coach. EMCC has won all three playoff meetings, including victories in the 2009 and 2011 state championship games. In each of those seasons, the teams met in the regular season and postseason.
With the need to visit after a long absence, Thomas said the willingness to communicate happened long before opening kickoff.
"They got off the bus and (Mississippi Gulf Coast's) No . 12 (Dhaquille Williams) came over to us and told us how long a day it was going to be," Thomas said. "We kind of laughed because you are not going to be able to come in here and win with one really great player, no matter how good he is. And he is really good."
Williams finished with 11 receptions for 156 yards. After the game, Stephens called him the best athlete he can recall in more than two decades of playing and coaching junior college football.
Still, Mississippi Gulf Coast didn't maintain its offensive rhythm in the second half. The Bulldogs had a stretch of four-straight offensive possessions that ended in turnovers.
Last season, EMCC lost its final two games of the season -- a regular-season loss to ICC and a playoff loss in the semifinal round to Copiah-Lincoln C.C. Against ICC, EMCC lost its composure and committed six personal fouls.
Stephens knew this team wouldn't fall into Mississippi Gulf Coast's trap.
"There was no doubt about how we would handle a situation like this," Stephens said. "This is a grown team and a mature team. They are aware of the goals for the season and where we stand on obtaining those goals.
"It's a different mind-set and a different attitude. A year ago, we might have just gone down that road with Gulf Coast. This year it is totally different. We did our talking on the scoreboard."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter