September 21, 2012 11:09:44 AM
SCOOBA -- East Mississippi Community College football coach Buddy Stephens found motivational material in the most unusual place this week.
After being ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first three polls of the season, the Lions were ranked fourth Tuesday in the latest installment on the National Junior College Athletic Association Top 20.
Mississippi Delta C.C. paid the price Thursday night while EMCC worked its way through the grieving process. The Lions scored on eight of their first nine possessions in a 56-0 North Division victory at Sullivan-Windham Field.
"When we got moved from first to fourth, that really ticked our kids off," Stephens said. "It made them mad. They made them a little resilient and lit a fire. Last year, we overlooked a couple of guys and had some close games when it should not have been. Our full attention was gotten when the ranking came out, and everybody saw where we were."
The NJCAA has shifted its ranking process this season. The association is using a computer formula similar to the senior college's Bowl Championship Series format. The first three polls of the season were made up solely on votes by coaches and athletic administrators.
Tuesday's ranking debuted the new process, which includes a 67-percent weight given to human votes and a 33-percent weight given to the NJCAA Football Computer Rankings, which awards points based on victories and strength of schedule.
EMCC (4-0, 1-0 division) still received eight of nine first-place votes. A weakened strength of schedule dropped the Lions to fourth in the nation.
"We really felt disrespected," said EMCC sophomore defensive back Justin Cox, of West Point High School. "It seemed like a joke at first. If you are No. 1 in the nation and win by 53 points, you would think you would still be No. 1 in the nation. We can't control who we play. However, we will play a bunch of good people before the season is over. This is not something that won't get fixed."
On Thursday, EMCC had 30 first downs and 522 yards of total offense. It scored on the game's first five possessions and had numerous fresh faces see extended playing time, starting as early as the second quarter.
EMCC also posted its first shutout since a 54-0 victory against Mississippi Delta last year in Scooba. In that game, Mississippi Delta crossed midfield once. Thursday proved slightly more competitive. The Trojans (0-4, 0-2) made two trips past midfield and had one red-zone trip end on downs on EMCC's 20-yard line.
"The defense was really in a rhythm," Stephens said. "That is what really starts things for us. We have a long kick return and score on our first possession. Defensively, we answered from the first possession. When we do that, we are really good. The defensive momentum feeds the offense and gets it going."
The Lions have won nine straight division games and 16 straight games. In the past three weeks, the Lions have outscored the opposition 166-13.
"I think falling in the rankings was a little bit of a wake-up call," said EMCC sophomore linebacker Corey Williams, of Noxubee County High. "It was like well this team hasn't really done anything yet. That was last year's team winning the championship. That was last year's team that went undefeated. It's OK to have to earn everything this year.
"This team has real good leadership and a real good attitude. We have a killer instinct on defense. We will just have to keep beating people and keep getting shutouts."
Quarterback Quez Johnson was 21 of 37 for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 57 yards and had two scores.
EMCC scored four first-quarter touchdowns with scoring drives covering 67, 62, 78, and 35 yards. The short field on the fourth score was created by an interception by Shaquille Fluker. It was the only takeaway in the game.
"This was another chance for people to see what kind of team we have," Johnson said. "We took some things personally this week. Coaches always preach perfection. They always want a better game. Each week, we go out and try to deliver that."
EMCC will face two ranked opponents for the remainder of the regular season. North Division foes Northwest Mississippi C.C. and Itawamba C.C. are ranked sixth and 12th, respectively. ICC likely will fall after a 14-12 loss to Holmes C.C. New No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. is a possible opponent in the state playoffs.
"What we can control right now is what we do," Stephens said. "Every day, we talk about what we can do. We need to work on our offense, our defense and our special teams. We need to focus on being perfect at what we do. We have to work on us and we will be fine."
It's a safe bet the EMCC players will do everything they can to plead their case in the weeks ahead.
"We have to bring it the next eight games," EMCC sophomore defensive lineman Za'Darius Smith said. "The fans already love us. If we keep doing stuff like this, I think the computers will eventually like us, too."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
4. Walters column: Noxubee County rarely backs away from challenge HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. MSU men's basketball releases non-conference schedule COLLEGE SPORTS