The Meridian Star
It would be easy to look at the records and rosters to determine that this year's rivalry game between East Mississippi Community College and East Central Community College does not hold the same amount of weight as in past years.
With No. 5 EMCC coming into the Week 2 matchup fresh off a 49-6 win over Pearl River and ECCC trying to shake off a 40-7 loss to Itawamba last week, both teams enter tonight's game with programs at different states. However, make no mistake –– it still counts.
“There is a lot of pride in being able to play them,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said of the matchup. “They are the closest community college to us. You have to treat every game like it's the next game. But, I think there is a little more interest among the guys, because a lot of these guys grew up playing each other throughout their high-school career.”
For the Warriors and first-year head coach Ken Karcher, tonight's game is less about facing EMCC and more about improving themselves. Karcher has preached to his team the importance of building a foundation at ECCC. In doing that, he said the Warriors need to focus on growth each week.
“To be honest with you, it's just playing a great football team,” Karcher said. “Obviously you want to win the game, and you want the scoreboard to look different than it did last week. That's not my focus at this time. I'm aware, when I took the job, I knew where the program was. It's gonna be a long haul, but I was proud of our young men last week, the way they fought and competed for 60 minutes.
“There are a lot of good things on tape that we did, and there is a lot to improve on. We just have to continue to play hard and continue the techniques we are asked to do. If we do that, then we will make progress.”
For Stephens and the Lions, ECCC is the next rung on the ladder, as EMCC tries to climb its way back to another state championship. Stephens said he was impressed with the organization of his players last week, stating he was encouraged with how his team traveled and how they executed over a full 60 minutes. However, he said there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“We have to correct some mistakes offensively,” Stephens said. “We had some missed assignments. Defensively, it was the same thing. We lined up wrong a couple times. On special teams, we snapped the ball over the punter's head. All those things can be cleaned up and help us play an even better football game this week.”
One challenge EMCC will face will be an unfamiliar opponent in ECCC. While the Lions beat the Warriors 51-7 last season, this ECCC team is loaded with new faces, including 45 incoming freshmen and a whole new coaching staff. Stephens does not see a lack in familiarity causing a problem. Instead, the Lions will continue to play their style of football and let their execution do the rest.
“We just have to make sure we do what we do better than they do what they do,” Stephens said. “That's our challenge. Our challenge is not with the other teams, it is with ourselves.”