September 6, 2013 9:58:51 AM
SCOOBA -- When Starkville and West Point renew their prep football rivalry tonight, East Mississippi Community College will have two running backs in attendance cheering on their alma maters.
While Lakenderic Thomas and Preston Baker will be on opposite sides of that bitter feud tonight, the duo showed Thursday night what they can do when they can work together on a football field.
Thomas and Baker combined for five touchdowns as part of a 301-yard rushing night in No. 5 EMCC's 59-0 victory against East Central C.C. in its home opener played before a capacity crowd at Sullivan-Windham Field.
"He is like my big brother. I have learned so much from him already," said Baker, a key figure in Starkville High's run to the 2012 Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 5A state championship, of Thomas. "He has taught me how to run hard. At Starkville, we were about throwing the ball. At West Point, they are all about running the ball. So yes, I have learned a lot."
In the preseason, Thomas said his goal for this season was 1,500 rushing yards. He felt the need to live up to the standard of University of Cincinnati running back Rodriguez Moore, who anchored EMCC's backfield the past two seasons.
Thomas ran 15 times for 100 yards and his first four touchdowns of the season. Backup quarterback/scatback Todd Mays ran for a team-best 112 yards, giving EMCC two 100-yard rushers for only the second time in Buddy Stephens' six seasons as coach.
"It felt good to get into the flow like that tonight," said Thomas, who starred on West Point's MHSAA Class 5A state championship teams in 2009 and 2010. "I had some four-touchdown games in high school. But this was my first time to do it with the big boys. It really felt great out there."
EMCC (2-0) scored on its first two possessions and quickly scored again on a Christian Russell 18-yard fumble return. EMCC's defense has scored a touchdown in each victory. EMCC has outscored its first two opponents 108-6.
"We are humble because we made too many mistakes," said EMCC sophomore quarterback Dontreal Pruitt, who found Kameron Myers for two touchdown passes. "We had three turnovers, five or six drops, and a couple of balls I overthrew. I don't think you can ever play the perfect game. However, that is what we come out here and strive to do."
For Baker, he has been trying to adjust speed of the game and learning what to do on the next level. Last week in a victory against Pearl River C.C., Baker scored on a 1-yard run as time expired, giving him the ever-so-brief 1-0 lead on Thomas in the touchdown department.
"It is a totally different game out here," Baker said. "I am thankful for everybody working with me the way we have. This is like one big brotherhood. Tonight, we owe it to the offensive line. They were incredible. Even though we are the guys making the moves and scoring the touchdowns, (the offensive line) gave us this chance."
Baker again scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. In addition to his 54 rushing yards, Baker had a 24-yard catch from Mays in what may have been the most impressive throw-and-catch of the night.
"Preston has all of the ability in the world, and he is going to be a big playmaker on our offense," Thomas said. "That is what makes this team so special. We can attack you from so many places."
The offensive line of Avery Gennesy, David Mahaffey, Wiley Maddox, Jamal Danley, and Blake Sharp paved the way for the monster rushing night. It is the fourth time under Stephens the Lions ran for 300 or more yards. Still, the veteran coach wasn't buying all of the hype postgame.
"We simply took what (East Central) gave us," Stephens said. "This was the closest thing I have ever seen to a stall in junior college ball. They were doing their best to keep the ball away from us. We had way too many mistakes to be satisfied in our effort. The mistakes will get you beat when you are playing a really good team."
On this night, the Lions offset their three turnovers by forcing four. ECCC (0-2) gained 73 yards, including 39 on the final drive. Russell, A.J. Stamps, and Jimmie Gipson led the way. The 73 yards allowed was 51 fewer than the previous low allowed under Stephens.
"In case you haven't noticed, our defense pretty good," said Thomas, while flashing a huge smile.
Thomas expects that smile to continue tonight because he feels the Green Wave can ride Aeris Williams to a victory. Last season, West Point won in the regular season only to have Baker and his teammates earn a 29-28 overtime victory in the North State championship game.
"Starkville has a running back named Jacquez Horsley, and he will have a big night, no doubt about it," Baker said. "West Point will need all the help they can get to bring him down."
The EMCC running backs plans to attend the game together. However, where they will sit at West Point could be troublesome. After a weekend of leisure, though, they will get back to back to prepare for Southwest Mississippi C.C. next week.
Even after a four-touchdown night, Thomas has bigger goals in mind.
"I had a six-touchdown game in ninth grade once," Thomas said. "That was a lot of fun. May just have to see if I can do that again."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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