The Meridian Star
East Mississippi Community College earned its third state title in five years and all but locked up a berth in the National Junior College Athletic Association’s national championship game, beating Jones County Junior College, 61-24, in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges championship game Saturday at Sullivan-Windham Stadium.
The No. 2 EMCC Lions put together perhaps their strongest defensive performance of the season as they tallied four interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, against No. 4 JCJC. EMCC increased its season total to 29 interceptions with seven returned for touchdowns.
“There is no doubt at all, this is the best defense in the nation,” EMCC defensive lineman D.J. Pettway said. “We worked for that title, and we just try to come and do our best every day.”
Running back Lakenderic Thomas led the Lions on offense, gaining 154 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. The performance put Thomas over 1,000 yards on the season. EMCC quarterback Dontreal Pruitt tallied 187 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-39 passing but also threw a season-high two interceptions for the Lions. Justin Mack led EMCC in receiving with four catches for 50 yards while Brandon Acker caught five passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
The Lions wasted no time getting on the board, driving 75 yards on 13 plays on their opening drive, capped off by a 3-yard touchdown run by Thomas on fourth-and-1 to put EMCC up 7-0.
EMCC defensive back Byerson Cockrell intercepted a pass from JCJC’s Steven Swindle later in the quarter to set the Lions up at the JCJC 44-yard line.
The Lions capitalized on the good field position, driving down to the JCJC 3-yard line before Pruitt fired a touchdown pass to Kameron Myers to double EMCC’s lead, 14-0.
JCJC’s Marcus Betts intercepted a Pruitt pass on the JCJC 7-yard line late in the first quarter. But, JCJC’s Kenneth Coleman was brought down in the end zone by Pettway on the next play resulting in a safety.
“That was awesome,” Pettway said. “I thought he was going to get rid of it, but we got him in time.”
After a missed 34-yard field goal by EMCC kicker Drew White in the second quarter, the Lions’ defense responded again. EMCC linebacker Christian Russell stepped in front of a pass from JCJC’s Kenneth Coleman on third-and-8 at the Bobcat 20-yard line and ran untouched into the end zone to give the Lions a commanding 23-0 lead.
Pruitt added a 27-yard touchdown to Acker later in the second quarter and defensive back Allen Sentimore added a pick-6 from 43 yards out as EMCC rolled into the half up 37-0. Sentimore’s interception was his eighth of the season tying him with Hutchinson Community College’s Jaylon Myers for most in the nation.
“We were just hungry,” Thomas said. “We worked all year for this. The team came out well prepared today, and we knew if we played hard they couldn’t play with us.”
With the win, EMCC earned a berth to the Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi on Dec. 8 where the Lions will presumably play No. 1 Georgia Military College for the national championship .
“I’m very proud of our team,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said. “I feel extremely blessed to be a part of East Mississippi Community College, and hopefully this will carry on a little bit further in a few weeks.”