By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
East Mississippi Community College is known for flinging the ball all over the field.
Three straight NJCAA All-American quarterbacks certainly helped with that identity. However, that is an identity the Lions don't subscribe too themselves. Instead when Holmes Community College visits Sullivan-Windham Field for homecoming at 2 p.m. today, the No. 5 Lions counter with a balanced offense. Fresh off a huge rushing game against Coahoma a week ago, EMCC has thrown for 1,472 yards and rushed for 1,260 more. It adds up to the MACJC's top offense, one that averages nearly 550 yards per game.
“There are games where you have to be able to do that,” EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. “You take what the defense gives you and that's our key, is being able to do both and not be a one-dimensional team. You can't go out there and just say we're going to throw it all the time. Even though we threw it 593 times, we still had a 1,300-yard rusher in the backfield last year.
“Our big thing this year is to try and be a more balanced offense. It makes you a better team. We saw that in some of our best games last year and we try to learn from our mistakes.”
And it does seem that simple. Last season, quarterback Bo Wallace set three NJCAA single-season records at the helm of the spread attack including passing yards and passing touchdowns. A week ago, Coahoma tried to limit the damage the Lions could inflict through the air and Rodriguez Moore and company instead churned out 339 yards rushing. Moore, a sophomore, has been key to the Lions' success in staying balanced after rushing for more than 1,300 yards last season and adding 476 more this season, good for second in the state.
“We just take what the defense gives us and the offensive line blocked well and I just ran hard,” Moore said. “Everybody is going to get their chance and we don't worry about that too much.”
The Bastrop, La., native adds much to the EMCC attack. He is the perfect fit, able to use his versatility to make the Lions even more dangerous.
“Our running backs are pretty much interchangeable and that allows us to line them out wide or in the slot or in the backfield,” Lions offensive coordinator Marcus Wood added. “That allows us so much flexibility. And our offense is so predicated on taking what the defense gives us, and the last few weeks teams have given us more of a five-man box look so we've been able to run a little bit more and the running backs have done a great job, as has the offensive line.”
Moore is not alone, though. Freshman Lakenderic Thomas has added 223 yards rushing, while Xavier Hogan also provides depth. Southeast Lauderdale product LeDarious Clark adds a big-play threat, although he has done most of his damage thus far on special teams. After winning NJCAA Special Teams Player of the Week for the Lions' season-opening win against Pearl River, Clark added MACJC honors this past week. Total, Clark has returned five kickoffs for 236 yards, a 47.2 average.
“It was good to get some touches so I can get the feel for it,” said Clark, who did pick up 33 yards on five carries a week ago. “Whether it's on special teams or offense, we have so many weapons that when I get a chance to touch it, I just try to make the most of it.”
Added Stephens: “Rodriguez runs hard, but the others all run hard, too. Ken and Xavier run the ball hard and are downhill runners, while Rodriguez, his forte is getting to the edge and running the zone read and he has the ability to play wide receiver. He allows us to not have to make a change if we decide to go empty.”
That versatility and EMCC's offensive philosophy may come in handy today against the Bulldogs. Holmes, 3-2 overall, is 3-0 in the MACJC North Division, half a game behind leader Northwest Mississippi. EMCC is 2-0 in the division and 5-0 overall.
The Bulldogs have put themselves in the division race early behind a stingy defense. Holmes allows only 84.6 yards passing per game, limiting opponents to just a 35.2 completion percentage on its passing attempts. Opponents have averaged 159.4 yards rushing per game and the Bulldogs are second in the state in total defense, allowing just 244 yards per outing.
Quarterback Dennis Robertson leads the Holmes offense, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 946 yards.
“I think it's going to be a challenge for us as a team as a whole,” Stephens added. “They play good offense. They play good defense. And they are really well-coached on special teams.
“I think they can provide you with a very tough ballgame and can beat your butt if you don't come ready to play. That's the thing we've been harping about all week is to come ready and play, focus on our gameplan and learning our gameplan.”
In addition to the game and the Hall of Fame inductions that are part of the homecoming festivities, EMCC also plans to unveil a 7-foot, bronze statue of legendary coach Bob “Bull” Sullivan in the north end zone today prior to kickoff.