September 20, 2017 10:32:28 AM
SCOOBA -- East Mississippi Community College sophomore defensive back Duke Upshaw is passionate about his teammates.
"I love these guys," Upshaw said. "I have never seen a team this together. Every day it is fun being on the field with my brothers. We have some special things right around the corner. This is our time."
No. 1 EMCC (3-0) will face Itawamba C.C. (1-2) in a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division matchup at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sullivan-Windham Field in Scooba.
EMCC moved from No. 2 to No. 1 in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national rankings released Tuesday. The move came on the heels of a 59-0 shutout of North Division rival Northeast Mississippi C.C. last Thursday in Booneville.
"Our defense has a chance to be special this season," said Upshaw, who was a prep standout at Baldwyn High School. "We have gotten back to the way of doing things that helped us win championships. Everybody is attacking. Eleven guys are flying to the football. This is the quickest team I have ever been on. We are having a lot of fun playing defense, hitting people."
EMCC rode a stellar defense to national championships in 2013 and 2014. First-year defensive coordinator Cliff Collins was a defensive backs coach on each of those two teams. He has tried to get EMCC back to playing with the relentless passion that made those teams special.
"Each week we have gotten better, that is what you want to see as a coach," Collins said. "Really proud of the shutout. The guys had set that as a goal. It was the type of dominating performance we can have when we set our mind to it for four quarters."
After seeing each of the last two seasons fall short of a national championship, the 2017 Lions are hungry. The move to No. 1 should provide added incentive.
"The goal is the national championship," Upshaw said. "Anything less is a major disappointment. There is no complacency in this program. After some of the adversity from the last two seasons, we are hungry. We really want to be dominant. We don't want to leave any doubt we are the best team in the country."
Offensively, the Lions are thriving with balance. Back-to-back wins have come with the mercy rule being applied for the second half.
Lindsey Scott Jr. has thrown for 882 yards and six touchdowns. Tyrell Price leads the way with 261 rushing yards and seven scores.
"Championship teams have balance," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "That is really what has separated us in the past -- having a really great running back. I feel like we have three (Price, Reginald Hunter Jr., and Justin Connor)."
On defense, the Lions are hitting their stride. The Lions have allowed 10 points in the last two games.
"The biggest thing is not taking plays off," Upshaw said. "We had some weaknesses that kept us from being an elite unit last year. This year, everybody is in place. Everybody is working hard. We are all trying to reach that same goal. We want to bring another championship back to the program."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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