September 13, 2017 12:04:28 PM
The No. 2 East Mississippi Community College football team will be back in its comfort zone when it plays 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Northeast Mississippi C.C. in its Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division opener.
EMCC will bring a 24-game division winning streak into the game. Its last loss came in 2012 in the regular-season finale at Itawamba C.C.
In Buddy Stephens' first nine seasons as head coach, EMCC has won the division title eight times and rolled to a 51-3 division record.
"This is the first step towards making the playoffs," EMCC freshman quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. said. "Everybody is excited about playing that first division game. We have owned the division of late. It is our job to make sure that continues."
EMCC has opened the season with victories against Jones County Junior College (47-34) and Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. (49-10).
The Lions erased a 14-point third-quarter deficit in the first game. They didn't trail in the second game.
"The offense really grew up," EMCC sophomore running back Tyrell Price said. "The first game is always hard in junior college because you are playing so many new players. We just had to find a way to gut out a victory. (Against Gulf Coast), we played liked the type of team that can win a championship.
"Division play is starting at a good time. We just want to keep growing."
Against Gulf Coast, Price ran for 111 yards and four touchdowns. It was the first time under Stephens that a non-quarterback scored four rushing touchdowns in a game.
Scott, a transfer from LSU, has shined in his first two games. He is 39-for-63 for 708 yards and five touchdowns and two interceptions (both in the season opener). He is one of two quarterbacks in the state to throw for 700 or more yards in the first two games.
"You saw a much more efficient offense (against Gulf Coast)," Stephens said. "You saw a group that benefited from some more practice time. The thing was limiting turnovers and taking advantage of scoring opportunities. Our execution was much better. I think you will see the offense continue to take steps forward with more experience."
On other side of the ball, Cliff Collins was thrilled with his defense's execution. The first-year coordinator missed the season opener due to a MACJC suspension. With all coaches and players on hand for the second game, the Lions turned in a complete performance.
Last season, EMCC held five opponents to 10 points or less in a game.
"Did a great job of disrupting the Gulf Coast offense from the first series," Collins said. "We knew we could get our hands on some balls due to our speed. We did a better job of attacking and had more guys fly to the ball. Gulf Coast has a unique (run-oriented) offense, so it was important we stayed disciplined."
EMCC has finished the six-game division slate with a perfect record four-straight seasons. The Lions have been perfect in the division seven times under Stephens.
The challenge will be greater this season with division rivals Northwest Mississippi C.C. ranked fifth nationally and Holmes C.C. tied for seventh.
Northeast Mississippi C.C. began the season ranked No. 9 but fell out this week after losses to Pearl River C.C. (27-21) and East Central C.C. (27-20) to start the season.
"We have taken pride with the work we have done in the division," Stephens said. "We feel like this is our title to win each season. Winning the division means home-field advantage in the playoffs, and that is huge. It's still too early to talk about winning a division, though. The main thing is getting better. If we get better each week, winning the division will take care of itself."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter