The Meridian Star
Up 83-7 with less than five minutes to play in the game and his team on the Coahoma Community College four-yard line, East Mississippi Community College head coach Buddy Stephens took a timeout to kneel the ball. Seven points away from a National Junior College Athletic Association record 90 points, his players pleaded for him to allow them to go for the touchdown. Stephens looked up at the lopsided scoreboard and then back down at his players.
“I told them the only way they were going to do it was if they were going to run,” Stephens said. “They were going to have to run to do it. We ran the inside zone for four yards and we scored.”
Since the decision, Stephens has been torn apart by critics claiming that running up the score against Coahoma was a classless act.
“You know what, I feel bad,” Stephens said. “I've taken more grief from it then you can imagine. I'm good, I'll be OK. I'm a big boy, I've got some big britches and I'll be OK.”
After the game, Stephens went and shook hands with Coahoma head coach Freeman Horton who was not at all upset with the game. After all, it was Horton who declined to run the clock in the third quarter. Stephens said Horton told him he appreciated the opportunity to run the clock but said it was his job to stop the Lions from scoring.
Horton was right.
What else could Stephens have done, quit? After going into the half up 55-0, the Lions pulled their first-string offense and defense. With only 55 players on a roster, there is no third string in JUCO football.
EMCC backup quarterback Todd Mays only passed the ball nine times in the second half, and that was only to keep the Lions' defense from constantly taking the field.
It's easy to say that Stephens should have had his kids take a knee every play on offense. But, it would be unfair to risk the safety of his second-string defense by keeping them on the field for the entire second half.
So, Stephens did what he was paid to do — he put his team in the best situation to succeed, not only now, but in the future. He didn't disrespect Coahoma, please. Disrespecting the Tigers would have been taking a knee and telling them they didn't even deserve to be on the same playing field. Maybe they don't, but that's not Stephens responsibility.
These are college kids we are talking about, many of them playing for an opportunity to move to the next level. There are no hurt feelings; no one is going to go home traumatically upset over losing 90-7. Opposing players might get ticked off, but maybe that's a good thing. It should only provide extra motivation to never let that kind of result ever happen again.
If Saturday's game did anything, it gave players the opportunity to get better — on both sides of the ball. For EMCC it meant players who are normally stuck on the bench were given their chance to shine. For Coahoma it meant 60 minutes of training against the best team in the state.
When its all said and done, it doesn't matter what the critics say, Stephens did what he felt was the best thing for who he cared about most — his players.