September 7, 2018 10:28:14 AM
POPLARVILLE -- Cliff Collins, the East Mississippi Community College football team's defensive coordinator, spent the offseason reminding his team it needed to improve in the turnover department.
So far, so good.
No. 1 EMCC collected three takeaways for a second-straight week in a 59-10 rout of Pearl River C.C. at Dobie Holden Stadium.
"When you see the other team is afraid to throw that's a good feeling," EMCC sophomore defensive lineman Everitt Cunningham said. "Late in the game, you could tell (PRCC wasn't) real comfortable. They couldn't find anything they could go to with confidence."
Collins said he would like to mold his defenses after the 2013 and 2014 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship squads. Those teams dominated at the line of scrimmage.
Cunningham, Kane Taylor, Daniel Middleton, Lashawn Paulino-Bell, and Eriq Kitchen already have the team well on their way along the defensive line. EMCC was credited with eight tackles for loss.
PRCC had 81 of its 187 yards on the first possession.
"Some of these slow starts won't be happening later in the season," EMCC sophomore defensive back JaQuez Akins said. "Everybody is trying to play together as a team. Our line play has been great the last two weeks. That just sets the rest of us up on defense."
Akins had a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown. Keilos Swinney and Joseph Anderson also had interceptions.
In the opener, EMCC had four tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and two interceptions.
"We were embarrassed a couple of times last year (61 points allowed against Northwest Mississippi C.C. in the regular season and 66 allowed to Northwest Mississippi C.C. in the playoffs)," Akins said. "That has really stuck with us as a defense. We don't want that to happen again."
Last season, EMCC overcame a regular-season loss at Northwest Mississippi C.C. with five-straight wins to capture a fourth national championship.
EMCC fell from first to ninth nationally after the loss. The move back up the rankings came in large part to playing four-straight ranked opponents to finish the season.
Entering Thursday night, the Mississippi of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) had four teams in the NJCAA top 20.
Unfortunately for the league, No. 8 Jones County Junior College fell 25-23 to Holmes C.C. in Ellisville, while No. 14 Itawamba C.C. fell 34-28 to East Central C.C. in Fulton.
The other ranked winner from inside the state was No. 5 Northwest Mississippi C.C., which beat Southwest Mississippi C.C. 51-6.
EMCC beat then-No. 13 Hinds C.C. in the season opener. The other ranked teams on the schedule are Northwest Mississippi C.C. and ICC (both on the road).
Around the state
Former Starkville Academy standout Torin Hamilton caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Mario Asagunia in the first quarter to help ECCC build a 27-7 halftime lead en route to its upset of No. 14 ICC.
Former Starkville Academy standout Sam Cox had four extra points for ECCC (1-1).
Former Caledonia High quarterback Spencer Unruh threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Kevarius Brown in the first quarter for ICC (1-1).
Clark Mills hit former Caledonia High standout Jamel Thomas with a 14-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
Former Caledonia High standout Caleb Comer had four extra points.
ICC will play host to No. 1 EMCC at 6:30 p.m. Thursday Sept. 13 on Military Appreciation Night in Fulton.
In other action, Copiah-Lincoln C.C. defeated Northeast Mississippi C.C. 21-7, Hinds C.C. beat Mississippi Delta C.C. 31-21, and Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. defeated Coahoma C.C. 46-21.
This and that
EMCC has won nine-straight games against the MACJC South Division, including two in the postseason ... EMCC has scored 50 or more points in its first two games (the Lions topped that total four times last season) ... The 2-0 start has happened seven times under Buddy Stephens ... Former Notre Dame transfer Deon McIntosh became the first EMCC player under Stephens to record five rushing touchdowns in his first two starts.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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