East Mississippi Community College quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. (18) tries to escape from Itawamba C.C.’s Que Lott (23) in their game Thursday night in Scooba. Photo by: Jason Dyess/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
September 22, 2017 11:25:48 AM
SCOOBA -- The East Mississippi Community College football team's defense strives for perfection each week.
On Thursday night at Sullivan-Windham Field, No. 1 EMCC had to settle for a one-sided victory against a rival.
EMCC allowed 611 yards of offense but made plays when it mattered in a 48-24 victory against Itawamba C.C. in Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division play at Sullivan-Windham Field.
EMCC improved to 4-0 and 2-0 in division play with its 26th-straight division win. ICC continued its recent trend of scaring its biggest rival before falling to 1-3 and 1-1.
"Coach (Cliff) Collins really called a great game," EMCC sophomore linebacker Ty'Ree Evans said of the team's defensive coordinator. "It was on us for not going as hard as we needed to go on some plays. At the end, we knew we had to make some plays and execute. There was no way we could let this win get away from us."
EMCC players most likely saw visions of ICC quarterback Dan Ellington and All-America wide receiver Terry Williams in their sleep.
Ellington was 41-for-59 for 494 yards and two touchdowns. Williams had 16 receptions for 197 yards but was held out of the end zone. The two were almost perfect together. It left EMCC dizzy to say the least.
"As a defense, our coaches have just done a wonderful job of getting us the tools to get better each week," said EMCC freshman
defensive back JaQuez Akins said, who played previously at Starkville High School. "The last couple of weeks we have together as one unit. We really needed that tonight. We faced a lot of adversity. They had their way with us for most of the night.
"When you face adversity, you need your brothers. That is how you come together to have a great defense."
ICC defeated then-No. 5 Northwest Mississippi C.C. in its division opener. Against the Lions, the Indians were hot on the trail of an even bigger upset, as an entertaining first half saw EMCC take a 17-14 halftime lead.
Things started to turn for EMCC's defense early in the third quarter. A Duke Upshaw strip and a Ty Williams fumble recovery set the Lions up for Lindsey Scott Jr.'s 21-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw.
ICC answered with a field goal and was contemplating game-tying points after former Hamilton High standout Quinshay Heard's strip and fumble recovery. ICC drove to the EMCC 18-yard line before a turnover on downs. Cole Baker and Marquise Griffin had critical sacks for EMCC.
However, a pass interference call kept things going. Finally the middle of the EMCC line, which included former West Point High standout Everitt Cunningham and former Starkville High standout Lorenzo Dantzler, who was back from injury, finally got a stop on a fourth-and-3.
"We just had to keep working on a night where a lot of things didn't come easily," Evans said. "We work those turnover drills every day in practice. The turnovers on downs and the takeaways were huge. Everybody was getting yards, so we had to get some stops."
EMCC then did what has made it a regular national title contender under Buddy Stephens. Ja'Mori Mark capped a four-play, 82-yard drive with a 59-yard touchdown run to make it a two-score game.
"Sometimes you have to win when you don't play your best," Stephens said. "We weren't on the level we had been the last two weeks, but we were good enough. I hope the players enjoy this victory. A lot of guys work hard every week and don't get to enjoy a win."
EMCC had 509 yards. Scott was 21-for-35 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Tyrell Price ran for 114 yards and two touchdowns, while Mark had 106 yards and a touchdown to give EMCC two-100-yard runners in the same game for the first time this season. Scott fell 9 yards shy of the mark.
"Everybody is excited about being 4-0," Price said. "We had a few more mistakes than we normally have. The biggest thing is to still get a win. When you face adversity, how do you respond? It was a struggle tonight, but we found a way to keep going."
ICC scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to pull within seven points, but EMCC scored on its final four possessions to seal the deal.
ICC scored on 2 of 7 second-half possessions, with a lost fumble and two turnovers on downs.
Sophomore defensive back Dwayne Pickett Jr. had a season-high 10 tackles to lead the Lions. Evans and Akins were in on nine stops. The Lions were credited with 11 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Freshman defensive back Keilos Swinney had seven tackles and an interception.
"We have got a good offense," ICC coach Sean Cannon said. "We have to make some short-yardage runs, get some first downs, and all of that. The biggest thing is you can't turn the ball over. You can't beat the No. 1 team on the road when you turn the ball over. They are No. 1 for a reason."
While that reason was debatable in some areas, Akins knows where his team is headed.
"We play for championships here," Akins said. "We have the talent. We just have to keep getting better. You want to be even better next week. At the end of the day, 1-0 (for the week) is the only statistic that matters."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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