Meridian Star

Sports

December 6, 2013

EMCC at home in title bout

SCOOBA — East Mississippi Community College wide receiver Antoinne Adkins still remembers boarding a charter airplane to Yuma, Ariz. two years ago en route to the Lions’ first ever national championship appearance in the 2011 El Torro Bowl.

    This year, EMCC’s title trip was much easier, as the Lions loaded up on team buses Friday afternoon and embarked to the coast in preparation of Sunday’s Mississippi Bowl in Biloxi at 2 p.m. The game will pair No. 2 EMCC (11-0) against No. 1 Georgia Military College (11-0) for the National Junior College Athletic Association’s national championship — the first football national title ever played in Mississippi.

    “It’s a whole lot different knowing you’ll be playing in front of friends and family,” Adkins said. “There are no long faces, nobody gets left behind.”

    EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said the chance to represent the state is a “very big deal” for his program heading forward.

    The matchup will feature the nation’s leading rusher in GMC’s Jovon Robinson who averaged 195.4 rushing yards per game on his way to 2,189 yards and 31 touchdowns this season.    

    The Bulldogs’ offense, which averages 293.5 yards per game on the ground, will face an EMCC defense that has held opposing offenses to just 58.9 rushing yards per game.

    “Everybody on this line, they are playing for something,” EMCC defensive lineman D.J. Pettway said. “They are playing for a better scholarship or whatever. But, we are all playing for each other. We just come out and work our tails off.”

    EMCC comes into the game leading the nation in both points scored per game (63.2) and points allowed (7.7), while GMC is averaging 46.5 points and giving up 17.5.

    Here are five things to watch for in Sunday’s game:

    Family affair: EMCC players have raved about the team’s newly found chemistry this season. The Lions, who average a balanced 358.2 yards per game in the air and 252.9 on the ground, have used a family approach while embracing a team-first attitude during their run for a second title in three years.

    “We have all come together like we’ve been knowing each other for years at a time,” EMCC quarterback Dontreal Pruitt said. “It just feels great. It took time to come together, but everybody wants to win and nobody wants to shine brighter than the team.”

    Made to be broken: Pruitt leads an EMCC offense that sits 460 yards away from breaking the NJCAA record of 7,181 yards in a single season set by Iowa Western Community College last year.

    While he admitted the record is a goal for the Lions, Pruitt said the team will be happy with any amount of yards in Sunday’s game — provided they are ahead of GMC when the final whistle blows.

    “Records are always good, because you get your name in a book of people that have done great things,” Pruitt said. “A great win over another great team, especially a team that is ranked higher than you are, it means way more to me.”

    Smash and Dash: The EMCC passing game isn’t the only thing leading the Lions’ offense this year. Running backs Lakenderic Thomas, Todd Mays and Preston Baker have combined for 2,188 yards and 35 touchdowns on the ground this season.

    Mays served as both a running back and the Lions’ backup quarterback this year, also coming in on Wildcat packages at the goal line.

    Thomas leads the Lions with 15 touchdowns and 1,086 rushing yards and is typically spelled in the backfield by Baker.

    Thomas, a graduate of West Point High School, and Baker, a graduate of Starkville High School, were rivals during their prep careers but have developed a strong bond since joining the Lions, even earning the nickname “Smash and Dash” by their teammates.

    “Both of us have speed, but you know I’m the faster of the two guys,” Baker said smiling. “From being rivals to helping each other in the backfield, it’s been great. He became one of my best friends this year. I’m really going to miss him when he’s gone.”

    28 Days Later: Sunday will end a 28-day layoff for the Lions since their last game, a 61-24 win over Jones County in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state title game on Nov. 9.

    Stephens said he followed the same schedule as in past bowl years, giving his players a week off to start before scheduling Monday and Tuesday practices up until game week. Still, the Lions are itching to get back on the field against a different opponent.

    “All of us are ready to go out there and play,” EMCC defensive lineman Jarran Reed said. “We are anxious, and we are ready to see what it will be like. I’m just trying to handle it like any other game. There is going to be a lot of hype around it, but we are just staying focused on what we need to do.”

    Under the spotlight: While a second national title appearance is sure to help EMCC with recruiting, Stephens said Sunday’s game will also help showcase football across the state. Since it’s inaugural game in 2008, the Mississippi Bowl has provided the MACJC champion a chance to compete on a national level. Stephens said he hopes  a national championship will provide even more growth to the event.

    “I think it is important for the state of Mississippi to win on a national level,” Stephens said. “I think the bowl brings that capability to our league. It also brings a lot of exposure to our league. I hoping one day it will even be televised.”

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