The Meridian Star
Through six games the East Mississippi Community College football team has yet to be tested. The Lions (6-0, 3-0) continue to lead the nation in both points scored (65.3) and points allowed (2.2) and have outscored opponents 392-13 this season.
All that could change Thursday night as EMCC plays host to Northeast Mississippi Community College (3-3, 3-0) at 7 p.m.
Despite their .500 record, head coach Buddy Stephens and the Lions will not take the Tigers lightly as all three of NEMCC's losses have come to teams currently ranked in the top 10 of the National Junior College Athletic Association poll.
“They are a team with a lot of Division I drop downs and a lot of Division I signees,” Stephens said. “So, we got a lot of work ahead of us.”
Northeast held No. 2 ranked Jones County Junior College to a 34-28 win in Week 2 and also played No. 7 Copiah-Lincoln Community College and No.8 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College within 10 points. Stephens also remembers the 49-42 loss the Tigers dealt EMCC in 2010 — the last time Northeast made the trip to Scooba.
With both teams undefeated in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division, the game will offer plenty of playoff ramifications.
“They are still very into it,” Stephens said of NEMCC. “They will be a highly-strung team when they come in here. We have to be ready to weather the storm.”
Here are five things to watch for in Thursday night's game.
1) It's that man again: For the second time this season, EMCC receiver C.J. Bates earned MACJC Special Teams player of the week honors as he recorded his second punt return for a touchdown of the season last week against Holmes Community College. The freshman from Louisville is averaging 18.9 yards on punt returns this season.
“He's a very good athlete,” Stephens said. “I think the guys that block for him take pride in being really good special team players. It's just a by product, and C.J.'s been the guy that's been able to score.”
2) Sack attack: The EMCC defensive line has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks tallying 31 sacks on the year. Sophomore Jimmie Gibson III leads the way for the Lions with seven sacks and is followed by D.J. Pettway with four sacks and D.J. Jones with three sacks. The constant pressure has led to 15 interceptions as the EMCC defense has been almost impenetrable this season.
“Our defensive line is good, but I think they all feed off each other,” Stephens said. “Our defense as a whole and how they hustle, that's just a by product of everybody doing their job.”
3) Mr. Everything: Last week Todd Mays accounted for 26 points — the most points under Stephens in one game — as he ran in four touchdowns and a two-point conversion against Holmes. Serving as a backup quarterback and a running back for the Lions, Mays has thrown for 175 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-25 passing and carried the ball 56 times for 423 yards and nine touchdowns.
“He's growing, and he gets better and better every practice,” Stephens said of Mays. “He knows what practice is for and he does a good job. Todd's everything that was advertised when he came out of Olive Branch High School.”
4) Twin Tigers: NEMCC offers multiple options at quarterback as LSU transfer Jarrard Randle and 270-pound Jeremy Liggins have shared snaps this season. Despite having more to prepare for, Stephens said the Lions did not do anything different in practice.
“They are both very good quarterbacks,” Stephens said. “They both offer a skill-set that is very tough to defend. We just have to prepare our guys for whatever they are up against.”
5) Dropping down: Despite shutting out Holmes, 55-0, EMCC moved down a spot to No. 3 in the NJCAA poll. The Lions secured three of the nine first-place votes but were jumped by Jones County who fared better in the computer rankings due to a tougher schedule. Stephens said the Lions are not concerned with the move.
“We all understand this is a long journey,” Stephens said. “We have to pay our dues. Jones has played a tougher schedule and has beat better teams. Jones is the best team in the South, and if we are fortunate enough to be the best team in the North then we will play them in the State championship.”