August 29, 2014 11:21:17 AM
SUMMIT -- Chad Kelly and the East Mississippi Community College football team received rave reviews for their opening act.
Kelly, a transfer from Clemson University, threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns as top-ranked EMCC opened defense of its National Junior College Athletic Association national championship with a 52-14 victory against Southwest Mississippi C.C. on Thursday night at Hurst Stadium.
"After the first couple of series, we reached an incredible comfort level," EMCC sophomore wide receiver Brandon Acker said. "Chad (Kelly) was really throwing darts all over the place. He had a truly amazing game."
EMCC won its 13th-straight game and its season opener for the sixth time in seven tries under coach Buddy Stephens. The final 25 minutes, 20 seconds were played under the new Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges "mercy rule." The rule calls for a running clock any time a team holds a lead of 38 or more points in the second half. The teams ran only 18 plays in the fourth quarter.
"It was a really good start because we did some nice things out there," Kelly said. "It is going to take a little while to get that rhythm going, but I really like what I saw tonight. You can tell we have a lot of playmakers. We just have to be patient and not beat ourselves. This was a good start."
Kelly was 31 of 38 in his debut. The Lions used the slant pass to perfection, breaking it twice for lengthy touchdowns -- an 81-yard play to Todd Mays and a 41-yard pass play to Kameron Myers.
"I don't know how much we will use that play this year, but it was situation where (Southwest) was giving it to us," Stephens said. "We are going to take what the defense gives us. If you are a defense going up against our offense, it's just a matter of picking which way you want to die. (Southwest) went with more of a zone look and played back. We have the speed to do some damage with that."
EMCC took the initial possession 48 yards on nine plays. Kelly hit Camion Patrick for a 2-yard touchdown.
Southwest answered on its second possession. The Lions allowed one first-quarter touchdown last season. The Bears matched that total here when former Noxubee County High School standout De'Angelo Ballard helped orchestrate a brilliant scoring march that moved 75 yards on 11 plays. Ballard hit Kelvin Williams for a 14-yard pickup and later hit Ladarrius Slocum for the first of his two touchdown catches.
Now fully engaged, EMCC's offense found that much-needed second gear. The Lions scored on 4 of 5 second-quarter possessions.
Kelly capped a 15-play, 85-yard drive with a 1-yard run and on his team's next offensive possession. He then hit Mays for the 81-yard scoring play. EMCC marched 50 yards on seven plays, with Kelly hitting Acker on an 8-yard touchdown, for the next score. Drew White's 28-yard field goal as the half expired gave EMCC a 31-7 halftime lead.
"We had some long scoring drives, and I don't know what is up with that," EMCC sophomore running back Preston Baker said. "That is not we normally do. I like what I saw from the offense, though. Chad (Kelly) showed tonight how special he can become. He had a real good control of the offense, and things will only get better from here."
Kelly hit Myers for the 41-yard touchdown to cap a 75-yard, seven-play drive to start the second half. EMCC's defense then got into the act, as Demetrius Cain recorded a 21-yard interception return for touchdown.
An 8-yard touchdown run by Baker capped an 82-yard drive to end the third quarter.
EMCC cranked out 576 yards of offense and 31 first downs. Kelly, Mays, and Wyatt Roberts combined to hit 12 receivers. Freshman D.J. Law, of Haines City, Florida, led the ground game with 13 rushes for 64 yards. Eleven of the yards came in the second half.
EMCC didn't turn the ball over but committed eight penalties.
"Awfully proud of the guys for coming on the road and doing what they needed to do to get the win," Stephens said. "There is a lot to clean up. You can't have some of the pre-snap penalties we had tonight. However, to get this season started, it was an outstanding effort."
EMCC will begin preparations for its home opener Thursday night against third-ranked Copiah-Lincoln C.C. Postgame, Stephens told his team to be ready for the best team they will face this season.
"We can't wait to play the next one," Baker said. "For us, this is one win down and hopefully 11 more to go. We know what it takes to win a championship. We are going to come back out next week and work just as hard to keep it going."
n No. 3 Copiah Lincoln C.C. 37, No. 19 Itawamba C.C. 13: At Wesson, the Wolves built a 30-3 lead in the first half and cruised to the victory in the season opener for both teams.
Richard McQuarley finished with 59 yards on 12 carries for the Indians, while Kwarda Griggs was 7 of 18 for 107 yards, including a 53-yard scoring strike to Grant Kimberlin. Tyler Jackson connected on field goals of 28 and 26 yards for the Indians.
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter