August 29, 2018 12:37:06 PM
SCOOBA -- With plenty of transfers finding their way to East Mississippi Community College early in the football team's fall practice, season openers haven't been spotless.
Even though EMCC is 8-2 in openers under Buddy Stephens, many of the performances have lacked crispness and dominance.
This season, No. 1 EMCC will have a smaller margin for error when it takes on No. 13 Hinds C.C. at 7 p.m. Thursday at Sullivan-Windham Field in Scooba on opening night of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) regular season.
"This is the biggest opener we have had around here in quite some time," EMCC sophomore defensive back Jaquez Akins. "If you start out 0-1, it's a long road back. Hinds has a very good offense, so this is a big game and a great way to start the season."
EMCC will face a ranked opponent in the season opener for the third time in Stephens' 11 seasons. In 2010, EMCC lost to No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. 40-21 en route to a 5-5 season. In 2011, EMCC beat No. 2 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. 34-30 and went on to win the first of the school's four National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championships.
The last season-opening loss was in 2016, when a short-handed EMCC squad lost 27-25 at Jones County Junior College. That EMCC squad won its final 11 games and finished second nationally.
"The margin for error in our league is small," Stephens said. "You can't get caught up on the long-range ramifications of the game or you lose focus. We approach this game, like any other game, with the goal of ending the night 1-0. Hinds gives you a lot to prepare for, so we will need to be at our best.
"This will be a good test of how to handle adversity during the course of a game."
For EMCC, the game will be the debut of Michigan State transfer Messiah deWeaver at quarterback. deWeaver transferred during the Christmas holidays and attended EMCC for the spring semester. He led the squad through spring workouts.
It is a much different scenario than a year ago when LSU transfer Lindsey Scott Jr., arrived on campus less than two weeks before playing in a 47-34 victory against JCJC to start the season. The Lions had to erase a two-touchdown second-half deficit to get the win. EMCC trailed 34-30 before scoring 17 points in the fourth quarter.
"Everybody is ready to play," deWeaver said. "This program has set a championship standard over the years. The season is a marathon, but it's important we come out strong. The coaches talk about the challenges of getting everybody on the same page. The chemistry has been great in practice, so hopefully that can carry over to a strong performance on the field."
A year ago, Tyrell Price ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns in EMCC's 51-41 win at Hinds C.C. The Lions and Eagles played a nip-and-tuck dramatic affair that gave EMCC a critical win in its road back to the national title.
After falling at Northwest Mississippi C.C., EMCC had to win its final five games to snag the program's first national championship since 2014.
"Last year was important because the team was able to get back to winning championships," Akins said. "Two seasons without a title doesn't seem like a long time, but you could tell everybody was a little on edge.
"Now, the sophomores have a big challenge ahead. Being able to win back-to-back championships would prove we were the class that brought the program back."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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