November 8, 2009 12:22:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
SCOOBA -- One more drive, one more stop.
The East Mississippi Community delivered on both counts Saturday to make history.
Randall Mackey connected with Lance Lewis on his seventh touchdown pass of the game, and Anthony Hines'' interception with less than a minute to play sealed EMCC''s 75-71 victory against Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges title game at Sullivan-Windham Field.
With the victory, No. 7 EMCC (10-1) secured the first state title in school history in the program''s initial appearance in the championship game.
EMCC will move on to play in the Mississippi Bowl on Dec. 6 in Biloxi.
"It was a wild one," EMCC second-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "Our kids played hard and played resilient. They kept believing. That is the main thing. Our guys continued to play hard. That was a key. We didn''t give up."
The Lions couldn''t -- and wouldn''t -- give up with Mackey leading the way. The sophomore quarterback from Port Sulphur, La., was 30 of 43 for 478 yards. He also rushed for 125 yards on 18 carries.
Mackey exhibited the coolness under pressure in the final 2 minutes, 40 seconds that helped him guide the Lions to their second consecutive North Division title.
Former Starkville High School standout Pat Shed (eight catches, 164 yards) made a diving catch for 4 yards on first down to get the drive started right. Mackey, who is committed to the University of Mississippi, then hit Derrick Steele for a 5-yard gain to pick up the first down. Following a 2-yard gain on a keeper, MGCCC (9-2) was whistled for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty that moved the ball to the Bulldogs'' 32.
Mackey then calmly dropped back and lofted a pass to the left corner. On the previous scoring drive, Mackey had motioned to Lewis to be ready for a big play.
"He was telling me that if the free safety came down he was going to direct me where to go, and that''s exactly what he did," Lewis said.
On this drive, Mackey did the same thing, and the sophomore wide receiver was ready. Lewis watched the ball and broke back to the inside of his defender inside the 10-yard line. He rose up while the defender was focused on him and made the catch near the top of the his leap. Brett Spencer''s extra point was key because it pushed the margin to 75-71 with 1:35 remaining.
"We work (on those plays) every day in practice," Lewis said. "We are used to the jam (by the cornerback at the line of scrimmage), so we have to get off it and work to the outside and Mackey is going to put it there."
Mackey said he doesn''t worry about the girth of the defensive linemen coming at him or the number of blitzers who are trying to rush his throws. He said he had only one thing on his mind as Saturday afternoon turned into evening.
"I am championship man. I want to win a championship," Mackey said. "That was the only thing that was on my mind for the past five minutes."
MGCCC took over at its 35 and moved the ball thanks to sophomore quarterback Greg Jenkins and sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Bolden, a Mississippi State commitment. Jenkins hit Bolden on a 20-yard gainer to push the ball to the Lions'' 45. A 6-yard rush by sophomore running back Vick Ballard and an 8-yard pass from Jenkins to Dontrelle Sanford gave the Bulldogs a first-and-10 from the Lions'' 31 with 1:03 to go.
But EMCC''s defense held.
Freshman linebacker Dujuan Brown broke up a pass on first down before Jenkins hit Sanford again, this time for 9 yards.
Hines, another former Starkville High standout, ended the drama when he intercepted a Jenkins pass at the 1 and set the stage for the biggest celebration Scooba has seen in some time.
"He made a great break on the ball," Stephens said.
The Lions received contributions from so many players from the Greater Golden Triangle area. Freshman Billy Autrey (Columbus High) and sophomores Avis Shelton and Quartney Cox (West Point High), Jeremiah McDonald (Starkville High), and Diavalo Simpson staved off constant blitzes to give Mackey the time to throw the football and the running lanes he needed to escape.
Freshman middle linebacker Gabe Poe stepped in for Alvin Ellis, who was unable to play after he was ejected from last week''s victory against Jones County, and was all over the field. Listed at 5-foot-9, 210 pounds, the former West Oktibbeha High standout fueled a defense that came up with just enough stops at just the right time.
"Unbelievable," Stephens said of Poe. "Alvin is a leader on our team. He was our leading tackler, and he is the heart and soul of our defense.
"Gabe Poe played an outstanding game. Our whole defense played well. They scored 71 and you can say, ''How did that happen,'' but they kept playing hard, and that is a very good football team."
The victory continues a string of firsts for Stephens and the Lions. This season is the first time the Lions have advanced to the state playoffs in consecutive seasons.
EMCC also is the first representative from the MACJC''s North Division to compete in the state title game since Holmes C.C. won the championship in 2002.
All that just adds to the enjoyment for Stephens, who joked after the game that the victory means he will be able to keep his job for another year.
"I am just so proud and happy for our guys," Stephens said. "I am happy for our college and the guys who played here before these guys. This will do nothing but build on for the future for the guys who will come after these guys. Right now, these guys can say they have done something that nobody else has done here at East Mississippi Community College
"Last night, we talked about being immortal and being a part of history. No matter what we do, we''re going to be part of history, but sometimes people remember the winners (more)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.