August 24, 2010 11:35:00 AM
SCOOBA -- Time is ticking away for the East Mississippi Community College football team.
In nine days, the No. 7 Lions will try to build off the most successful season in the school''s history when they travel to Perkinston on Sept. 2 to take on No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.
The game will feature two of the nation''s top teams in the National Junior College Athletic Association''s preseason rankings. Those rankings are based largely on the results of last season, when EMCC defeated MGCCC 75-71 in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior College state championship to win its first state crown.
EMCC then defeated Arizona Western 27-24 to win the 2009 Mississippi Bowl in December in Biloxi.
The victory helped EMCC finish 11-1 and earn a No. 4 final ranking in the NJCAA poll. EMCC enters this season having claimed back-to-back MACJC North Division titles with consecutive 6-0 league marks.
That''s heady stuff to try to build on, especially when you have to replace the All-America quarterback who helped guide you to most of that success.
Randall Mackey is now competing for playing time at the University of Mississippi. The do-it-all performer led the nation with 3,122 yards passing, finished second in the nation with 32 touchdown passes, and rushed for 579 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Coach Buddy Stephens knows his team will be hard pressed to duplicate the success it has last year, but he is confident this year''s team has plenty of talent and will come together. He just wishes he had a month and a half to help it jell.
"It''s tough right now," Stephens said. "With the heat and everything, it is tough keeping their minds on what they''re doing. We need to be a little more fluid and work on our timing offensively. Defensively, we need to do a better job tackling and getting to where we''re supposed to be."
Stephens hopes former Noxubee County High School standout Patrick Patterson can regain the form that helped him land at Ole Miss.
Patterson had 12 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown as a freshman for the Rebels, but coach Houston Nutt dismissed him from the team in July. Patterson served a one-game suspension last season and was suspended for spring drills but appeared ready to compete for playing time before he was dismissed from the squad.
Rivals.com rated Patterson the No. 4 wide receiver in the nation, and the top recruit out of the state of Mississippi.
In 2008, Patterson had 73 catches for 1,287 yards and 19 touchdowns to lead Noxubee County to the Class 4A state title. The Tigers were state runner-up in 2007.
Patterson was chosen the Class 4A Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-State performer by the Mississippi Coaches Association in 2008. For his career, he had 209 catches for 3,574 yards and 42 touchdowns.
Stephens said he hopes to have Patterson available for the opener against MGCCC. He said Patterson has adjusted well to the new surroundings and is excited about a chance to get back out on the field.
Patterson declined a request Monday to be interviewed.
"Patrick has come in here and been absolutely fantastic as far as his work ethic and his demeanor," Stephens said. "He has done everything that we have asked him to do. He has fit in well with the guys, and I am very pleased with his performance on and off the field."
Stephens will look to sophomore Brad Henderson, of Starkville, to step in at quarterback. He will count on an experienced group in the secondary, led by Columbus High''s Johnny Cockrell, to help lead the defense.
If everything comes together, Stephens feels the Lions could be back where they were last season.
If only there was enough time to make sure.
"It is going to boil down to our focus," Stephens said. "We have a lot of athletes and a lot of talent. I am excited about that, but I am worried right now about focusing and not letting the little things bother them. There are a lot of people who are still living in the past, but in about a week and a half the future is going to smack them in the head.
"Right now rankings don''t mean anything, but you would like to be in a position to win a national championship. If that''s one of our goals, we''re going to have to win that first ballgame."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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