Meridian Star

Sports

October 16, 2013

EMCC within reach of third-straight North Division title

MERIDIAN — The East Mississippi Community College football team can earn its third-straight Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division title Thursday night with a win and a little help from its friends.

     A victory over Northwest Mississippi Community College would solidify a playoff spot for the Lions. A win coupled with a loss from Itawamba Community College to Northeast Mississippi Community College would clinch a fifth division title in six years.

    “It is a good feeling. But, we are in it for one thing, the big one,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said. “That’s what we are looking at. In order to win the big one, we have to win all these other ones first.”

    This week Stephens and the Lions moved a step closer to getting to “the big one”  as EMCC moved to No.2 in the National Junior College Athletic Association rankings following a loss from previously No. 2 Jones County.

    Stephens said last week’s 59-0 win against Northeast was the hardest his team has been tested all year. Despite heading into the half with a 38-0 lead, the Lions were able to play their starters in more meaningful snaps against the Tigers — something Stephens said will be important heading into the postseason.

    “Our starting quarterback has only played in two second halves,” he said. “We don’t want him to have to play too much in the second half. But, the thing is we have to play as hard every ball game. It was good to get tested last week.”

    This week’s game will be the last road game of the regular season for East Mississippi (7-0, 4-0) as the Lions travel to Senatobia for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff against Northwest (1-6, 1-4).

    Here are five things to watch for in Thursday night’s game.

    Close calls: Five of the Rangers’ six losses this season were by a touchdown or less. Stephens said the Lions will not overlook Northwest despite their 1-6 record as he expects a battle Thursday night.

    “You can take 15 points and they are a 4-2 team,” Stephens said. “That’s the thing for them. They are growing, they’re getting better. They just have had a lot of bad luck with some of their games this year.”

    Last year EMCC held on to beat the Rangers, 56-49, in Scooba.

    Three-headed beast: Stephens said Northwest presents the Lions with the best quarterback, receiver and running back they have seen all year.

    Northwest quarterback Karsten Miller is No. 14 in the nation in yards per game with 216.9, tossing 12 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Running back Damian Baker is also a danger as he is No. 14 in the nation in rushing with 101 yards per game. Wide receiver D’Montrise Swinney offers perhaps the Rangers’ most deadly weapon as he ranks No. 10 in the nation in receiving yards per game with 84.6. Swinney also has six touchdowns on the year.

    “He’s a tall, fast, good looking wide receiver,” Stephens said of Swinney. “He’s a guy we can’t give up big plays to. We have to do a good job of rushing the passer and making them have to make decisions quickly. But, at the same time, Damian Baker is a guy that could start for every team in the state. So, we will have to contain him as well.”

    Inside their head: EMCC defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley served as the defensive line coach for Northwest last season helping to lead a defense that gave up 25.7 points per game and held opponents under 14 points four times. While Stephens acknowledged Lesley’s incite could be an advantage for the Lions, he said having a former coach on board is often an overrated aspect.

    “Sometimes it helps, sometimes it hinders,” Stephens said. “I think we have to know that there are some of those guys he knows and some of those guys he doesn’t. I don’t think it helped (Pearl River Community College head coach) William Jones much being our defensive coordinator in the first ball game.”

    Restricted Rangers: The Northwest football team was delivered sanctions by the MACJC earlier this season after over signing the number of National Letters of Intent allowed to each team. The sanctions banned the Rangers from the postseason in 2013 and will cut their roster from 55 to 50 members for both the 2014 and 2015 season.

    Close on their tails: Despite jumping to No. 2 in the NJCAA poll, EMCC finds itself narrowly ahead of Tyler Junior College. The Lions lead Tyler by 6.5 points. Last week Tyler trailed the then third-place Lions by 23.5 points. No. 2 EMCC trails Georgia Military College by 13.5 points for the top spot in the nation.

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