November 8, 2017 9:06:54 PM
Each season, a lot of critical football news is lost during the offseason shuffle.
One surprising move took place in early 2017.
East Mississippi Community College offensive coordinator Marcus Wood left the football program to take a position in the school's administration.
In the first airing of "Last Chance U" about 18 months ago, Wood was referenced as the program's head coach-in waiting.
After nine seasons he and Buddy Stephens would be drifting apart for this season. While EMCC has seen a myriad of changes on the defensive coaching staff, the duo of Wood and Stephens had set the standard for consistency in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC).
Stephens went to the high school ranks with the hiring of Starkville High School's David Boykin as the new offensive coordinator.
Turns out, the top-ranked Lions are still humming along quite nicely.
No. 1 EMCC (9-1) will face No. 4 Northwest Mississippi (8-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Senatobia for the MACJC state championship.
Stephens will be looking for his sixth state championship in 10 seasons in Scooba. A win would also send EMCC to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship game for the fourth time in seven seasons. The Lions won titles in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
Over the years, Stephens' squad has been known for an up-tempo spread offense. Plays are expected to be run within seconds of one another.
Whether it be punt, turnover on downs or touchdown, all drives are planned to last less than two minutes. Stephens has created the offense, while Wood and now Boykin have been the care-takers.
"Love the offense," said EMCC quarterback Lindsey Scott, Jr., who transferred in August from LSU. "It's simple yet it does so much. When the ball is snapped, there are lot of options. We just like to get it and go. When we find that rhythm and things are clicking, look out."
When EMCC started hammering opponents on a consistent basis, the MACJC instituted a mercy rule. When a team is leading by 38 or more points in the second half, a running clock is used.
The last couple of EMCC teams have been just as deadly as their predecessors without the offensive statistics to prove it.
Still, the number are mighty good.
"David has really been outstanding this year," Stephens said. "He came in and bought in to what we were doing and added his own touches. It is great to watch a unit reach its full potential."
EMCC is averaging 502.5 yards and 48.2 points per game. The Lions may have their best balance yet, with averages of 207.2 yards per game rushing and 295.3 yards per game passing.
Scott has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 2,840 yards and 22 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He has gone over 400 yards twice.
On the ground, former Lafayette County standout Tyrell Price has been a star. Price has run for 896 yards with a nation's best 20 touchdowns. EMCC has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Lakenderic Thomas in 2013. That should change with Price having two more games.
Not only has Price been stellar, Scott has fit the typical Stephens mode of a run-pass threat quarterback. EMCC has had few "sit in the pocket" quarterbacks during the Stephens' era.
Along with Price and Scott, Ja'Mori Mark has been a lethal threat on the ground, too.
"We feel like we have the best group of running backs in the state," Stephens said. "Justin Connor would be a star back most places. He has (26) carries with us this season.
"This is a pass-first, pass-last league. However, if you really want to be a national championship contender, you have to run the football. Especially when it is time to put a game away."
EMCC has always been dominant in the receiving department. It is not uncommon for 12 or 13 receivers to catch balls in a particular game. This season, 15 players have caught a pass and nine have scored.
Kirk Merritt, who played previously at Oregon and Texas A&M, leads the way with 47 catches for 585 yards with three touchdowns. Mike Williams has 25 catches for 538 yards and seven scores.
Scott is third nationally in yards and sixth in touchdowns. Merritt is 23rd in receiving yards nationally but that is tradition with so many players catching a ball at EMCC.
On the ground, Price is 12th nationally in yards and leads the way in touchdowns.
As a team, EMCC is second nationally in total yards, third in passing yards and 12th in rushing yards.
"We feel like we can score on anybody at anytime," Scott said. "When we lose, it's because we beat ourselves. The first game against Northwest (a 61-38) was a wake-up call. We won't be able to leave points on the field. We will have to execute."
At its simplest form, the game of football is all about execution. Over the years, the Lions have been great at doing that.
There are no numbers to suggest that it won't continue.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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