November 9, 2013 9:00:21 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
SCOOBA -- East Mississippi Community College president Dr. Rick Young congratulated football coach Buddy Stephens and summed up the college's football program quite succinctly to his sixth-year coach.
"You really have this thing rolling right now," Young said.
Indeed, business on the football field is booming at one of Mississippi's fastest-growing two-year community colleges.
Ranked second nationally, EMCC claimed its third Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state championship in five seasons with a 61-24 win over No. 4 Jones Junior College before a standing-room only crowd at Sullivan-Windham Field.
EMCC had never won a state championship before Stephens' arrival. The school now has three titles with Saturday's win coming on the heels of state championships in both 2009 and 2011. The Lions are now 17-1 in the three-year history of their new stadium.
"We are having this type of success on odd years, now we got to find a way to do it every year," said Stephens, who has won 55 of 65 games at EMCC. "Next year, we will pretend the year is 2015 a year early. Maybe that will work out for us just as well."
With the win, EMCC claims a spot in the Mississippi Bowl, which is set to be played Dec. 8 at Biloxi High School. An official bowl announcement is expected Monday. However, EMCC is expected to play No. 1 Georgia Military College in that bowl game for the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship.
EMCC left no doubt about in-state supremacy Saturday. The Lions forced first-half turnovers and led the Bobcats 37-0 at the intermission. In the opening half, EMCC scored three touchdowns on offense, two touchdowns on defense and also recorded a safety in the end zone.
"On defense, we wanted to set a tone," EMCC sophomore linebacker Christian Russell said. "We knew we were playing a great offense so it was our job to totally shut them down."
EMCC improved to 11-0 and completed an undefeated regular season for only the second time in program history. The Lions' slimmest margin of victory was 17 points in last week's 45-28 win over Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in the semifinal round of the playoffs.
While Jones (9-2) also beat Gulf Coast in the regular season, Saturday was a much different story.
EMCC collected 430 yards of total offense on 81 plays, Former West Point High School standout Lakenderic Thomas rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas becomes the state's only 1,000-yard rusher for this season.
"Our No. 1 goal this year was to win a championship," Thomas said. "This is special because of the group of guys that I did this with. From the first day at the end of last season, we dedicated ourselves to getting back and winning this game."
Quarterback Dontreal Pruitt completed 23-of-40 pass attempts for 191 yards. With touchdown tosses to Kameron Myers and Brandon Acker, Pruitt now leads the nation with 42 touchdowns.
"I have always wanted to win a state championship," said Pruitt, who was one of five EMCC players from Laurel High School playing against the junior college located in his home county. "This is a special day indeed. A lot of people had expectations for our team. Nobody had higher expectations than we did.
"The job is not done yet, though. We are here to win a national championship so we have one more to go."
Stephens, who guided the Lions to the 2011 national championship, agrees that business is not done. However, Saturday afternoon was still a reason to celebrate with dozens of family members flooding the field for post-game handshakes, hugs and photos with the trophy.
"When the season starts, this is the championship you want to win," Stephens said. "I am proud of the business-like attitude we have had every week. The attention to detail for this team has been incredible.
"Now that we have won these 11 games though, we have a chance to play a 12th game. It will be the biggest game that most of the young men will ever play in."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter