A 21-yard fumble recovery by defensive lineman Maurice White, taken for a touchdown, helped spark a 28-point unanswered second half for No. 5 East Mississippi Community College to pull away from Pearl River Community College and win 49-15 Thursday night to bounce back from last week’s loss.
“I’m really happy to get in the win column because I tell you, I was more nervous tonight than I’ve been in a long time,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said. “You know what’s riding on this, and you know what kind of job you have ahead of you if you’re not able to turn it around, because we’ve been there before.”
The Lions never fell behind in the contest but struggled against the Wildcats’ run game in the first half, which earned 129 yards. EMCC took an early 14-3 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Connor Neville to Jason Brownlee and a 2-yard run from quarterback Jamari Jones, but Pearl River kept it close with a 2-yard touchdown run of its on.
After Neville connected with Myles Hopson for a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter, the Wildcats came right back and scored on a 22-yard reception before halftime to make it 21-15 at the break.
After White’s defensive touchdown in the third quarter, Neville threw a 33-yard pass to Austin Morphis for the touchdown, and Hamm McGee took a fourth-down handoff 34 yards for the score to give the Lions a 42-15 lead heading into the fourth.
On the first play of the final period, Neville found Keon Moore from 13 yards out for his fourth passing touchdown of the night. Neville finished 24-for-42 for 358 yards and threw one interception.
“It allows him to walk a little taller today, be proud of himself and where he’s come from and how far he’s come,” Stephens said of Neville’s performance. “He just needs to know that that team around him believes in him, and his coaches believe in him, and that helps you believe in yourself a lot.”
Pearl River (1-1) was held to 67 yards on the ground in the second half and 183 through the air for the game. East Mississippi (1-1) also earned four sacks and an interception on defense.
McGee led the Lions’ rushing attack with 54 yards on eight carries. Zias Perryman and Keon Moore each added 41 yards. Jason Brownlee caught five passes for 135 yards, and Pervis Frazier had six receptions for 56 yards.
“We just came out with more intensity and executed,” Stephens said of the second half. “That has everything to do with it.”
East Mississippi hosts Itawamba Community College (0-2) next week.