The Meridian Star
For a minute and 41 seconds Saturday afternoon, East Mississippi Community College defensive back A.J. Stamps was the biggest scapegoat in Scooba.
With No. 2 EMCC clinging on to a three-point lead over No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in the opening round of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges playoffs, Stamps lost sight of a punt and allowed the ball to bounce up and hit his hand, giving possession back to the Bulldogs at the Lions’ 36-yard line with 3:36 left in the third quarter.
After recapturing the momentum, MGCCC drove the ball down to Lions’ 15-yard line. But, Stamps received redemption two plays later by picking off a Colton Kane pass in the end zone to eliminate a comeback and help EMCC pull away for a 45-28 win and a trip to the state championship next week against Jones County Junior College.
“I made a big mistake on that punt return by accidentally touching that ball,” Stamps said. “I saw C.J. Bates, he was pointing but I couldn’t find the ball. I figured I had to come back and make a play.”
The Bulldogs defense gave the Lions fits early, causing EMCC to turn the ball over on downs from the Bulldog 30-yard line on the game’s opening possession.
MGCCC took advantage of the early stop using a 22-yard pass from Kane to receiver D’haquille Williams to set up a 3-yard touchdown run from Antwon Phillips to put the Bulldogs up 7-0 with 6:45 to play in the first quarter.
The score marked the first time the Lions had trailed all season.
“I think our guys just played emotionally distressed in the first half,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said.
Facing a fourth-and-three from the MGCCC 47-yard line EMCC quarterback Dontreal Pruitt connected with receiver Justin Mack for 24 yards. The conversion helped set up a touchdown two plays later, as Pruitt found C.J. Bates on a 5-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
Pruitt finished the game with 296 yards and 4 touchdowns on 20-of-41 passing while also adding a score on the ground. Bates led the Lions in receiving with 6 catches for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mack had 6 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown while former Meridian High School Wildcat Antoinne Adkins also tallied 6 receptions for 50 yards and a score. Lakendric Thomas led the Lions on the ground with 117 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
The Bulldogs retook the lead on a 2-yard touchdown run from running back James Booth to go up 14-7 and hand EMCC its first halftime deficit of the year.
“We were very calm and collected,” Stamps said of the Lions’ mood in the locker room at halftime. “We knew we had to come and ball out to get the lead, and we came out and played our game. We didn’t let them get in our heads during the first half.”
After stalling the Bulldogs on the opening drive of the second half, the Lions bounced back again on their next possession. Two long runs from Thomas helped set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Pruitt to Mack as EMCC tied the game at 14-14 with 11:35 to play in the third.
With the Lions leading 31-14 midway through the fourth quarter, Williams made a highlight-reel catch for MGCCC, jumping high in the air and bringing down a touchdown over an EMCC defender to cut the lead to 31-21 with 7:01 to play. Williams finished the day with 11 catches for 150 yards.
“Have you seen a better wide receiver,” Stephens said referring to Williams after the game. “Y’all remember (former Pearl River wide receiver) Larry Brackins. He’s better than Larry Brackins. He’s a freak.”
The Bulldogs could not complete the comeback though, as Pruitt connected on a 49-yard touchdown pass to Bates on the Lions’ next possession to once again put the game out of reach.
EMCC will host JCJC on Saturday at 2 p.m. for the MACJC championship.
“Man, I’m very excited,” Stamps said. “I haven’t had a ring since I’ve been playing ball. It’d be a great thing to come out and win next week.”