September 28, 2012 12:35:35 PM
CLARKSDALE -- When East Mississippi Community College needed a lift Thursday night, sophomore running back Rodriguez Moore felt like that was the least he could do.
Rodriguez began the night serving a one-quarter suspension for violation of team rules. Coahoma C.C. would have liked the holdout to have lasted longer.
Rodriguez returned to rush for 118 yards and three touchdowns to help No. 5 EMCC pull away for a 48-17 victory in a North Division battle at James E. Miller Field.
"I made a bad mistake and I won't ever do anything like that again," Moore said. "I felt like I let my teammates down. I love my team. It was very important to me to make up for that. I am glad I got that chance."
After three straight dominating performances, the Lions were anything but stellar. Still, they ran their winning streak to 17 straight games and ensured next week's homecoming battle against Holmes C.C. would be a matchup for first place in the division.
"We started off slow," EMCC sophomore wide receiver Corey Smith said. "Some of that was because Rod (Moore) was not out there. Even though we are a passing team, he is our go-to back. It felt like we were down a guy. But the other picks up the load. Then in the second quarter, things really took off."
Coahoma (1-4, 0-2) entered the game fresh off its first victory against Pearl River C.C. With the home crowd rocking, the Tigers started with a three-and-out possession on defense.
"I don't remember a three-and-out on the first possession," EMCC freshman quarterback Quez Johnson said. "I don't even think we had done that in any scrimmages this fall."
Coahoma drove its first possession all the way to the EMCC 1-yard line before settling for a 19-yard field goal by Aaron Williams. For EMCC, it was its first deficit since the second quarter of the season opener.
"We were really bad in a lot of areas," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "But you are not always going to be on that level. The thing a championship team does is win and win big when you are not on that level."
EMCC (5-0, 2-0) regrouped on the next two possessions, scoring twice on 8- and 34-yard touchdowns passes from Johnson to Smith.
"We have so many playmakers on offense," Smith said. "I am beginning to feel comfortable with Quez. We were in a rhythm tonight."
The Lions continued a season-long trend of dominating in special teams. Two 50-yard kick returns by LeDarious Clark allowed the Lions to inch closer to seizing control.
"Our special teams have been solid," Stephens said. "I have to think that could make the difference in one of the big games down the stretch. LeDarious has a quick, explosive first step. He gave us a big lift in the first half when we struggling to put things together."
Justin Cox's first interception of the season and 50-yard return allowed the Lions to build on a 14-10 lead. With Moore in the backfield, Johnson led the Lions 54 yards on eight plays. A 1-yard quarterback keeper ran the advantage to 21-10.
Still, the outmanned Tigers kept pace. Quarterback Roderick McKee found Jordan Taylor for two scoring plays. McKee hit Taylor on a 44-yard pass play and later a 49-yard pass play.
EMCC, which was coming off its first shutout of the season last week, allowed 223 yards in the first half.
Moore then decided then was the time for a few big plays. The sophomore workhorse carried five times on a 10-play, 59-yard drive and scored the first of his three touchdowns on a 3-yard run to give the Lions a 28-17 lead at halftime.
"Last year was a good team, but this year we are more athletic," Moore said. "I love these guys and I love playing with them. I felt good about how the offensive line was blocking, so I thought this could be a big night. However, it is not about me, it is a team game. I just wanted to get back out there and do something to help."
EMCC adjusted and recorded a second-half shutout for the third time in five games. Still, that mark hung by a thread before an illegal block in the back erased a 78-yard scoring play. Coahoma also saw a potential 54-yard scoring play go awry with a fumble into the end zone.
"The second half shutout means a lot," Stephens said. "We gave up some big plays. Coahoma has some good offensive play-makers. That is how they beat Pearl River. We had a goal-line stand that was big and we forced two (second-half) turnovers. Those are the positives."
Jason Yarbor and Christian Russell snuffed two Coahoma possessions with fumble recoveries.
Offensively, Moore moved the chains and helped push his team into the win column with 88 yards in the second half. He capped the third-quarter scoring with touchdown runs of 41 and 15 yards. The Bastrop, La., native now has nine collegiate 100-yard rushing games and a team-best eight touchdowns.
Johnson was 13 of 26 for 134 yards. His third passing touchdown -- and 15th of the season -- was a 20-yard dart to Billy Shed in the fourth quarter.
"We came out sluggish and we had to get our tempo up," Johnson said. "We ran 37 plays in the first half. Last week (in a 56-0 win against Mississippi Delta C.C.), we ran 37 plays in the first quarter. We didn't look like ourselves when we first came out there. We had to pick it up.
"We have worked real hard in practice on our tempo. We have a bunch of playmakers on the field. No matter who I throw it to, I know I can trust them to make a play. This game tells us we can't come out, not play hard and still blow people out. We got to get better because we can't play like this again."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter