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Offensive line helps EMCC pave way to victory


Adam Minichino



SCOOBA -- The helmet is far from pristine. 


The red outline of a Lion on the side is intact, but the gouges on the top of the white helmet cry out for a paint job -- or a break from the action. 


But there aren''t any breaks when it comes to protecting a quarterback like Randall Mackey. 


That''s the life freshman center Billy Autrey and the rest of his East Mississippi Community College offensive linemates lead. 


Amidst a display of eye-popping offensive fireworks Saturday, Autrey and the rest of an offensive line packed with former Golden Triangle standouts did their best to make sure Mackey had enough time to work his magic. 


Mackey did just that, throwing for 477 yards and seven touchdowns to lead No. 7 EMCC past No. 3 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. 75-71 in the Mississippi Association of Colleges and Junior College state title game at Sullivan-Windham Field. 


The state title is the first in EMCC football history. 


The Lions (10-1) can thank Autrey, a former Columbus High standout, and sophomores Avis Shelton and Quartney Cox (West Point High), Jeremiah McDonald (Starkville High), and Diavalo Simpson (Moss Point High) for their stout job up front against a defense that attempted just about every way to throw pressure at Mackey. 


MGCCC (9-2) had only two sacks on the day, as Mackey, a sophomore quarterback from Port Sulphur, La., often had four and five seconds from the shotgun to pick apart the defense. 


"We have to do anything we can to protect Mackey," Autrey said. "Mackey is the franchise player for us. He is our best player and makes plays happen for us." 


Autrey, a second-team pick to the MACJC''s All-North team, said MGCCC used a blitz that gave the offensive line trouble in a 43-26 loss on Sept. 17 in Scooba. He said the Lions adjusted and stymied the Bulldogs'' scheme. 


"We worked on that and picked it up every time tonight," Autrey said. "Another reason Mackey doesn''t get sacked a lot is he is a great player and he makes plays happen."  


Former Starkville High standout Pat Shed (seven catches, 147 yards) and sophomore wide receiver Lance Lewis (season-high nine catches, 134 yards, four touchdowns) were the primary beneficiaries of the protection. 


When he didn''t have enough time, Mackey (31 of 42, 477 yards, seven touchdowns) still found receivers by throwing on the run. He also scrambled his way to 125 yards on 18 carries. 


One of the few hiccups came in the first quarter when Mackey ran into Autrey, who appeared not to now where his quarterback was, and settled for a 1-yard gain. The Lions scored two plays later on a 4-yard run by Shed to take a 14-0 lead. 


Cox repeated this season an an NJCAA All-Region 23 performer. He also earned MVP honors among the North Division'' offensive linemen from the state''s head coaches. 




Big-time fill-in 


A defense that plays without its leading tackler tends not to have a strong game. 


But freshman linebacker Gabe Poe helped the Lions hold their own without standout middle linebacker Alvin Ellis. 


Poe, a former standout at West Oktibbeha High, entered the game fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He was all over the field Saturday, coming up in run support against Vick Ballard and in pass protection, many times against bigger running backs. 


Size wise, Poe, who is listed at 5-foot-9, 21o pounds, was dwarfed by the Bulldogs'' mammoth offensive linemen, who average more than 317 pounds. But that didn''t stop him from doing anything he had to to get to the football. 


"We had to be long on guts because we were without our star," Poe said. "I just had to step up and make a play when I could every once in a while."  


Ellis missed the game after he was ejected from the Lions'' victory against Jones County last week.  


EMCC associate head coach/defensive coordinator William Jones said Poe and Ellis split repetitions in practice. He said Poe made up for what he lacks in size with an incredible heart. 


"I told him all week it was his time," Jones said. "Gabe was redshirted last year, and it hurt him. It made him so much more competitive this year. He was such a driven kid. He is almost a 4.0 student. He is a yes sir, no sir kid. I can''t say enough good things about Gabe. It was his time to step up and play, and he did." 


Poe said the team concept propelled the Lions on Saturday to their seventh-consecutive victory and their school-record tying 10th win overall. 


"I have never won a championship," Poe said. "I just had the drive that nothing was going to stop me today. I wanted it, and it was going to be all or nothing. If I couldn''t make a play, I was going to help one of my teammates make a play. 


"Our defense plays with a big heart. We know we are undersized. We have to thrive on quickness, effort, heart, and work ethic." 


Former Starkville High standout Anthony Hines made the final play for the defense when he intercepted Greg Jenkins at the Lions'' 1 with less than a minute to play. 


The interception was Hines'' team-leading seventh of the season. 


"We knew we were going to be here," Poe said. "We knew if the offense made a play that we would have to make a stop, and that''s what we did." 




This and that 


EMCC will await word on its bowl future. The Lions could play in the Mississippi Bowl on Dec. 6 in Biloxi. ... The 10th victory tied the all-time mark set in 1963 when Hall of Fame coach Bob "Bull" Sullivan''s EMJC team went 10-1-1. That record included an 18-14 victory against Tyler (Texas) JC In the Hospitality Bowl in Gulfport. ... The teams combined for 1,219 yards total offense. Ballard rushed for 186 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries, while Kelvin Bolden, a Mississippi State commitment, had eight catches for 260 yards and three touchdowns. ... EMCC wide receiver Lance Lewis, freshman return specialist British Footman, sophomore defensive end Claude Davis, and Ellis also earned first-team All-North Division honors. Wide receivers Bill Franks and Stephon Johnson, Shed, defensive end Jermayne Lott, linebacker Dujuan Brown, Hines, defensive back Izauea Lanier were named second-team All-North Division. 



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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