East Mississippi Community College running back Deon McIntosh (20) scores a touchdown in a 24-21 victory against East Central C.C. Photo by: Jason Dyess/Special to The Dispatch
October 2, 2018 10:11:09 AM
Over the years, the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) has featured epic showdowns between nationally ranked teams full of star power that have generated a lot of points.
The East Mississippi Community College football team has changed that mantra by running roughshod over the MACJC North Division for virtually a decade. There still have been delightful, edge-of-the-seat games played before capacity crowds, but they have been played in the South Division.
It has been more of the same in 2018.
EMCC is again ranked No. 1 nationally. The Lions are undefeated and blistering opponents on offense They also continue to be one of the few in the league that stresses a top-notch defense.
This season, though, EMCC has some competition.
EMCC will face No. 3 Northwest Mississippi C.C. on Thursday night in Senatobia. Northwest is also 5-0 and lighting up the scoreboard.
This is the start of a new scheduling rotation, which is why EMCC goes to Northwest Mississippi C.C. for its second-straight regular-season game. Last season, the Rangers stunned the world with a 61-38 victory that upset the Lions' undefeated season and No. 1 ranking.
The teams met again in Senatobia for the MACJC State championship with EMCC winning 67-66 in double overtime. That win helped propel the Lions back to No. 1 and to the program's fourth National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship.
The MACJC needed the EMCC-Northwest rivalry to become compelling again. After wallowing through several seasons of mediocrity, the Rangers have done their part.
EMCC has won 10 of 12 series meetings under Buddy Stephens. Much has changed, though, since five years ago when EMCC won 79-7 in Senatobia. The following year was again at Bobby Franklin Field and saw EMCC win 49-0.
The gap has since closed considerably.
EMCC beat the 2015 national champion Northwest Mississippi C.C. 49-16. In 2016, two games were played in Scooba, with EMCC winning 51-32 in the regular season and 38-30 in the state championship game.
It is debatable where this group of Lions is more vulnerable than EMCC's undefeated national championship squads in 2013 and 2014, or if other MACJC programs are recruiting better.
There is little doubt EMCC remains the gold standard. Whether they admit it or not, everyone wants to be like them.
A week ago, EMCC beat No. 20 East Central C.C. 24-21 in Decatur. One would have to go back to 2016 -- when EMCC beat Itawamba C.C. 44-42 in Fulton -- to find the last time EMCC won by three points or less in regular-season play.
Typically, the Lions react with disdain to close calls. They expect perfection, so allowing anyone to play a tight game is typically cause for concern. However, the team's locker room was different after the victory against ECCC.
There was an acknowledgement of ECCC. The Warriors have a talented front four that made it tough for the Lions to put anything together on offense.
Northwest Mississippi C.C. also had a similar scare, beating ECCC 28-24 in the regular-season opener.
This week, EMCC is in the unusual position of being taxed in back-to-back weeks. Last year, it was clear Northwest Mississippi C.C. was emotionally invested and highly motivated to end a seven-game losing streak in the series.
As we prepare for this week's battle, each team is expected to be locked in. They respect one another, but they also will showcase a boatload of athletes.
Neither team will face a major challenge in the remainder of the regular season. The only possible exception will be Northwest Mississippi C.C.'s game against ICC in Fulton in week nine, which means this is the big one. No need to research tiebreakers. The loser will remain in the national championship hunt, but it will have a different seat in that table.
It feels good to look forward to an EMCC-Northwest Mississippi C.C. game that matters.
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.