October 8, 2013 9:58:35 PM
SCOOBA -- Winning the first six games of the season is not uncharted territory for the East Mississippi Community College football team.
The third-ranked Lions have achieved that three straight seasons.
Now the temperatures are dropping and the season is quickly hitting its crossroads. EMCC is attempting to finish its second undefeated season in three years.
However, the challenges to get there will become greater with each passing week.
EMCC (6-0, 3-0 North Division) next faces Northeast Mississippi Community College (3-3, 3-0) Thursday night in Scooba.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field.
"There is no doubt we have reached the difficult part of the schedule," EMCC sixth-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "All of those numbers and all of those big wins do not matter right now. What lies in front of us are three great opponents. We want to play 12 games. To be able to accomplish that, we need to win games 7, 8 and 9."
In 2011, EMCC won all 12 games it played and grabbed the school's first national championship. This season's success has been far more dominant. The 2011 squad actually opened the season with a four-point win over Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and a three-point win over Hinds Community College.
This season., EMCC has outscored its first six opponents 392-13. The closest margin of victory is 43 points. Granted, EMCC has played no ranked opponents and the first six opponents are a combined 7-29. The lack of glamor from the schedule is the reason why EMCC fell from second to third in this week's National Junior College Athletic Association Top 20.
"I think some people are sleeping on us because of who we have played," EMCC freshman running back Todd Mays said. "All we can do is play the games that are in front of us. When we get to the big games, we will be ready. We took Holmes very seriously, because they had a great defense. We began the game with the mind-set that we had a great offensive game."
Against one of the state's premier defenses, EMCC did not even need a pit stop, rolling to a 55-0 win, which moved it to 3-0 in division play. Thursday's opponent Northeast is another of the three teams 3-0 in division play. EMCC will travel to Northwest Mississippi Community College before playing host to Itawamba Community College -- the other 3-0 in division team -- to end the season. If the rankings hold, Itawamba (No. 13 this week) will be EMCC's first ranked opponent.
"Before the Holmes game, we challenged the kids to respond with four great weeks of practice to end the regular season," Stephens said. "We beat Holmes without a great week of practice. We are getting to the point in the schedule where the great week of practice and the great performance on the field go hand in hand."
One would be hard to pressed to find a long list of concerns for the Lions. EMCC has already posted a nation's best four shutouts this season. The Lions have allowed 13 points all season -- second-half touchdowns in wins over Pearl River Community College and Coahoma Community College.
Offensively, Dontreal Pruitt has thrown 23 touchdowns against only two interceptions. The Lions have committed only one turnover the last two games combined. EMCC has three kick return touchdowns and five defensive touchdowns.
A year ago, EMCC won its first eight games before a stunning ending to the season -- back-to-back one-point losses to Itawamba in the regular season finale and Copiah-Lincoln Community College in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges playoffs. The Co-Lin loss is the only home loss in the three-year history of the new Sullivan-Windham Field.
"We know we can't let up," said Bates, a freshman wide receiver and a two-time MACJC Special Teams player of the week after his second punt return score of the season against Holmes. "If anything, last year taught us, it is not over until the very end. We have to keep fighting. This team is on a mission and we haven't accomplished anything yet."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter