November 12, 2013 9:45:21 AM
SCOOBA -- The East Mississippi Community College football team took another step Monday toward playing for the national championship.
EMCC checked in at No. 2 in the final National Junior College Athletic Association regular-season poll, which means it will be able to face No. 1 George Military College in a quasi-national championship game.
"After the first six games of the season, we challenged the kids that we wanted to be able to play six more games," EMCC sixth-year coach Buddy Stephens said. "We knew our schedule was front-loaded with some really great teams there at the end. Our goal was to keep building and to keep playing better and better as the opposition increased."
EMCC (11-0) ended the regular season with victories against its biggest football rivals, Northwest Mississippi C.C. and Itawamba C.C. It defeated Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. and Jones Junior College to win the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state title. The victories against Mississippi Gulf Coast and Jones were the first against ranked opponents.
"On defense, we wanted to play the perfect game in the playoffs," EMCC sophomore defensive back Allen Sentimore said. "We didn't do that because we gave up some points. But we got some turnovers and cause problems for our opponents. We did enough to be champions."
A 61-24 victory against Jones J.C. on Saturday at Sullivan-Windham Field gave EMCC its third state championship in five seasons. The victory secured EMCC an automatic invitation to the Mississippi Bowl as state champion.
The Mississippi Bowl will be at 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at Indians Stadium on the campus of Biloxi High School. Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. is the bowl host.
Pairings for all eight NJCAA-sanctioned bowl games will be announced today.
"We are excited to be playing a bowl game in our home state," Stephens said. "It is an excellent opportunity for our fans to see us play. It will be major exposure for our program around the state."
Georgia Military College (11-0) completed its regular season Sunday with a 63-18 victory against Lackawanna College in Blacksburg, Va. GMC finished with 207 poll points, slightly better than EMCC's 202.5 The NJCAA ranking systems includes human vote and a computer component, which factors in strength of schedule.
Georgia Military College and EMCC finished the regular season as the nation's only undefeated teams. This is the second time EMCC has accomplished that feat.
"We know how special it is to go undefeated," EMCC freshman running back/quarterback Todd Mays said. "I think it is a testament to the detail and focus this team had. We never took a day of practice off. This team has been more driven for perfection than any other team I have been on. Even though this was our expectation, it does not make it any less special because we know the hard work that has been invested by this team."
Since Georgia Military College doesn't have a bowl affiliation, EMCC can bring GMC to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the Mississippi Bowl. With a one-versus-two matchup in place, the Mississippi Bowl becomes the de facto national championship game.
"We plan to enjoy the state championship game for a couple of days," EMCC sophomore quarterback Dontreal Pruitt said. "When we get back on the practice field, it will be time to get serious again. Even though we have accomplished so much, one more game remains to be won."
No. 8 Jones (9-2), No. 9 Gulf Coast (8-2), No. 11 Copiah-Lincoln C.C. (7-2), and No. 14 Hinds C.C. (7-2) were the other state teams ranked in the final NJCAA Top 20.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter