September 18, 2018 9:36:13 AM
The collision course is setting up nicely.
On Oct. 4, No. 1 East Mississippi Community College will face No. 5 Northwest Mississippi C.C. in a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division battle in Senatobia.
The game looks like it will decide the division winner. It also will help define the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship picture.
A year ago, Northwest Mississippi C.C. beat EMCC 61-38 in the regular season. In the MACJC State championship game, EMCC beat Northwest 67-66 in double overtime.
Both of those games were in Senatobia. Each sent a new shot of adrenaline through the rivalry and the whole association.
EMCC is off to another strong start under Buddy Stephens. It has defeated Hinds C.C., Pearl River C.C., and Itawamba C.C. by a combined score of 165-36.
Two of the wins have been on the road. Two have involved a mercy-rule running clock in the second half. Two have come against highly regarded opponents.
Hinds has been ranked as high as No. 13 nationally, while ICC has been ranked as high as No. 14 nationally. Neither team is ranked, but that is subject to change through the remainder of the regular season.
One would have to go back to 2014 to the find the last time EMCC has won four-straight games while scoring 50 or more in each win. That streak should be matched Thursday night in a rout of winless Mississippi Delta C.C. in Scooba.
Conversely, Northwest (3-0) has scored 50 points or more in back-to-back games for the first time since 2000.
For those wondering how much fun Thursday will be, EMCC has outscored Delta 411-14 in the last seven series wins.
EMCC has started strong with a team built similar to Stephens' second and third national championship teams in 2013 and 2014.
Those teams had good run/pass balance, quality size along the offensive line, a front four on defense with size and speed, and a secondary designed to create turnovers.
The 2017 national championship team was built differently. However, that was a team on a mission after near-misses at national titles in 2015 and 2016.
The Lions were vulnerable on defense a year ago. That hasn't been the case through the first three weeks of this season.
At quarterback, the Lions are spoiled. Michigan State transfer Messiah deWeaver is the prototypical pocket passer. He was set to start after arriving on the Scooba campus in January. Prior to the start of the season, Vijay Miller was granted permission by the San Diego Padres baseball organization to come back and play a second football season in Scooba.
With deWeaver and Miller in uniform, Stephens can run his offense to perfection. The run options are there. The throw options are there. The receivers look like a standard EMCC crew that is deep, fast, and talented.
The Lions are averaging 55 points and 536 yards per game against above average competition and after having running clocks in two games.
The running game is in good hands with Notre Dame transfer Deon McIntosh leading the way. McIntosh has run 253 yards and seven touchdowns.
On defense, the Lions have forced 11 turnovers. A year ago, the team had 20 turnovers in 12 games.
While we won't learn anything about EMCC on Thursday night, the team will then focus on a critical three-game stretch at East Central C.C., at Northwest Mississippi C.C., and at home to Holmes C.C.
East Central C.C. dropped a 28-24 decision to Northwest Mississippi C.C., while Holmes C.C. owns an impressive victory against then-No. 8 Jones County Junior College.
EMCC will need to continue to stack style points in the event it loses at Northwest. A year ago, EMCC beat three-straight ranked opponents (one in regular season and two in the state playoffs) to overcome the loss to Northwest.
This season's EMCC-Northwest game is a week earlier, so the loser will have time to regroup. The loser will need a state championship rematch and it will need to win that rematch to play for a national title.
For now, EMCC can settle for three game's worth of very good numbers.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.