BILOXI — For the second time in three seasons, the East Mississippi Community College Lions are kings of the junior college world. No. 2 EMCC outlasted No. 1 Georgia Military College, 52-32, in the Mississippi Bowl to earn the National Junior College Athletic Association’s national championship Sunday night at Biloxi Indian Stadium.
“There was more relief with this one,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said. “I felt like we had a very good football team. I felt like we had a better football team. We just knew we had to finish.”
Former Meridian High School standout Antionne Adkins earned Offensive MVP for EMCC, racking up 186 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions. Jimmie Gipson III earned Defensive MVP.
Running back Lakenderic Thomas paced the Lions on the ground, carrying the ball 19 times for 248 yards and three touchdowns including one from 26 yards out to help EMCC pull away midway through the third quarter.
“I can’t believe it man, I’m just excited.” Thomas said. “The line did well and so did the whole team as a whole. We came out and did what we planned to do man.”
The game marks the first time a football national championship has been won on Mississippi soil.
“It means a lot,” Stephens said. “I think we represented the state of Mississippi very well. For us to do that, it means a lot to me. There is a lot of football coaches here from other schools. Some wanted to watch us win, some didn’t. But I think we represented the college very well today.”
EMCC (12-0) outscored opponents, 747-117 on the season and won each of its games by at least two possessions. After the game, Stephens said this team was the best he has ever coached.
“If this ain’t the best team ever, it’s certainly one of the best,” he said. “I think all the way around, we have a great group of kids.”
East Mississippi scored on its first possession of the game, as Thomas led the Lions by hurdling over a Bulldog defender en route to 60-yard run before punching in a touchdown from a yard out two plays later to put EMCC up 7-0.
“The anticipation before the game man, I was just excited,” Thomas said. “I saw the guy coming down and he was coming for my ankles. If I see a guy coming for my ankles, I try to anticipate it and jump over him. I just did it then, and it worked.”
GMC (11-1) responded, scoring on just three plays during its next possession to even the game before eventually running out to a 16-7 lead over the Lions late in the first quarter. EMCC quarterback Dontreal Pruitt started the game shaky, completing only four of his first 12 passes.
However, he and the Lions recovered later in the first half. With EMCC trailing16-14 in the second quarter, the sophomore quarterback found Adkins for 43-yards over the middle to set up a 40-yard field goal from kicker Drew White to put the Lions up 17-16. He later hit Adkins on a 28-yard touchdown as the Lions went into the half up 24-19.
“At the beginning of the game I told Dontreal (Pruitt) we weren’t on the same page,” Adkins said. “We came back out and hooked up a couple times and got a couple of deep balls. After that, I just told him thank you for trusting me.”
Pruitt finished the game 16-of-35 passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns and was awarded the Mississippi Bowl Committee Player of the Year award after the game.
GMC running back Jovon Robinson busted a 74-yard to start the third quarter giving the Bulldogs a 25-24 lead. Robinson finished the game with 36 carries for 236 yards and three touchdowns. But East Mississippi proved to be too much, scoring on back-to-back possessions later in the quarter to put the game away.
“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” Thomas said. “We just executed our game plan and did what we had to do. We told each other, eventually we would pull it out. We knew there wasn’t anybody that could run with us like that.”