December 4, 2018 10:44:04 AM
After returning from Kansas and having a few days to relax, the East Mississippi Community College football team received a final award Monday afternoon.
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) confirmed EMCC as the national champions in its final rankings for the 2018 campaign.
"It's always a long climb to the top," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "It takes so many people playing their roles to win a championship. There is a standard around here. It's great that the kids work hard to uphold that standard."
EMCC finished with all 17 first-place votes and a computer ranking of 370.
On Thursday at Pittsburg State, EMCC defeated No. 2 Garden City C.C. (Kansas) 10-9 in the national championship game.
Garden City C.C. (10-1) maintained its No. 2 ranking in the final poll.
EMCC (12-0) recorded its fourth perfect 12-win season under Stephens. The Lions also had a perfect regular season in 2015.
In another program first, this was the first season EMCC was ranked No. 1 in every poll. In 2014, the Lions started No. 1 and finished No. 1, but that team slipped to second for two polls.
EMCC has been ranked in the top 10 for 32-straight rankings.
"For the sophomores, this is a special way to end the season," EMCC sophomore defensive back JaQuez Akins said. "Anything shy of a national championship is a major disappointment. You come here to win championships. It's a blessing to be on the field with this much talent around you."
EMCC allowed 11.2 points per game, which led the nation.
National Championship Game Most Valuable Player Everitt Cunningham, of West Point, scored the Lions' touchdown on a fumble return in the second quarter.
Under Stephens, EMCC is 7-0 in bowl games and 5-0 in national championship games.
EMCC trails only Butler C.C. (Kansas) and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M on the all-time national championship list. Each of those schools have six titles.
The final NJCAA rankings also included Jones College (No. 5), Northwest Mississippi C.C. (No. 7), Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. (No. 12), and Copiah-Lincoln C.C. (No. 18).
In the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) playoffs, EMCC beat Co-Lin (31-7) and Jones (19-14) to win a seventh state title.
Jones earned the other bowl invite for the MACJC. On Sunday in Perkinston, Jones beat No. 10 Eastern Arizona College 27-7 to win the Mississippi Bowl. The Bobcats held the Gila Monsters to 101 yards and forced four turnovers. It was the first bowl victory for Jones since 1998.
The Mississippi representative has won 10 of 11 games played in the bowl game.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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