November 10, 2014 8:57:40 AM
WESSON -- The East Mississippi Community College football team did all it could on the field this season.
Now human voters and computers will decide its fate.
The final National Junior College Athletic Association ranking for the regular season will be released today. The poll will give an idea of EMCC's bowl destination, which will be confirmed Tuesday.
"We feel disrespected we are not No. 1 anymore," EMCC freshman wide receiver Camion Patrick said. "The good news is we will have a chance to determine it on the field."
The location of that field will be settled in the next 24 hours.
EMCC began the season as the nation's No. 1. The Lions followed that up by being top ranked for eight-straight weeks. After a 65-0 win against Mississippi Delta C.C. in its regular-season finale, EMCC slipped to No. 2 in the rankings.
EMCC was No. 2 last week after it defeated then-No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. 42-21 in the semifinal round of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges playoffs.
The rankings use a formula that is roughly two-thirds computer (based largely on strength of schedule) and one-third human votes (nine regional directors). Still, the breakdown of the ranking system -- first used in 2012 -- remains a mystery to most.
"We have asked (the NJCAA) for the formula and they won't give it to us," EMCC seventh-year coach Buddy Stephens said, "so you just guess and hope. We did all we could do. I don't think there is any doubt we have done enough to be considered the nation's best team."
EMCC capped its third undefeated regular season under Stephens on Saturday with a 54-15 victory against No. 10 Copiah-Lincoln C.C. in the MACJC state championship game. The victory means EMCC will finish the season with victories against four ranked opponents.
"We beat No. 5 and No. 10 in the playoffs," EMCC sophomore defensive back Allen Sentimore said. "I think that sends some kind of statement."
Now EMCC must wait and see to figure out if its second victory against a ranked opponent in as many weeks was enough to overtake No. 1 Iowa Western College. Iowa Western also finished 11-0 with a 38-10 victory against Iowa Central College (4-7).
By winning the MACJC championship, EMCC has an automatic invitation to the Mississippi Bowl, which is scheduled for Dec. 7 in Biloxi. Last season, EMCC beat Georgia Military College 52-32 in that game to win the program's second national championship.
However, Iowa Western is slated to play host to the Graphic Edge Bowl, which is played on the same day at the University of Northern Iowa Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. If IWC remains No. 1, it will play host to the national championship game and EMCC will be extended an invitation to play in that game.
If the poll reverses its course today and EMCC moves to No. 1, Iowa Western (assuming it is No. 2) would be invited to travel to Biloxi to play EMCC.
Trinity Valley C.C., also 11-0, was third last week. The Cardinals took to Twitter on Sunday to stake their claim to play for the national championship.
A year ago, EMCC played host to the national championship game as the nation's second-ranked team because Georgia Military didn't have a bowl tie-in. In 2011, EMCC also was ranked No. 2 when it traveled to Yuma, Arizona, and beat top-ranked Arizona Western College in the El Toro Bowl.
"We are just excited about playing for the national championship," EMCC sophomore running back Preston Baker said. "We want to play on the coast because we had a good time down there last year. If it doesn't happen, we will go and take care of business on the road."
EMCC players and coaches downplayed the slip in the ranking leading up to the state playoffs. The tone switched Saturday night at H.L. Stone Stadium. With the state championship trophy secured, several players commented about the disrespect they felt when falling in the ranking.
"It really isn't right," EMCC sophomore linebacker Demetrius Cain said. "There should be some type of explanation for what is going on. Sometimes it feels like everyone is out to get us. In a way, that just makes us hungrier."
EMCC has won 23-straight games. This season, the Lions have won by an average margin of 48.8 points per game. A second-quarter 14-0 deficit to Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. was the only time this season EMCC has trailed in a game.
The Lions also matched a school record with five shutouts.
"We started slow against Gulf Coast, so it was important to have a fast start (against Co-Lin)," Baker said. "I think everyone saw the complete package in this game. We really wanted to send a statement. We wanted to do everything in our power to show what we are all about."
The MACJC instituted a mercy rule this season. With a lead of 38 or more points, MACJC games were played with a running clock in the second half. The Lions are averaging roughly 20 fewer plays a game this season.
"(The member MACJC institutions) have done everything in their power to stop us," Stephens said. "It's funny we play all year with a mercy rule and then they take it off for the playoffs. That doesn't seem fair, does it? All we can do is win within the confines of our system. I don't think there is any doubt we belong (at No. 1). It has been hard to justify this to the kids.
"However, we keep working hard and we keep winning. If you win every game, they can't take the championship from you."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter