EDITOR'S NOTE — The original version of this story contained inaccurate stats for EMCC quarterback Connor Neville, which have been corrected.
RAYMOND — Down goes No. 1.
Hinds Community College’s DeMario Nichols got a pick-six with 2:33 left, and the Eagles’ defense managed a fourth-down stop with 46 seconds remaining in regulation to knock defending national champion and No. 1 East Mississippi Community College 24-16 in the MACJC season opener Thursday night.
The win for Hinds (1-0) snapped the Lions’ 17-game winning streak. The last EMCC loss was in 2017 against Northwest, and the Lions ended up winning a national championship.
“It was a total team effort, and these guys remembered what happened at their place last year, and they played with a chip on their shoulder tonight,” Hinds head coach Larry Williams said. “I told the guys ain’t nobody going to give you a chance and told them we need to play together as a family, and we would win this game, and that’s what they did. When bad things happened, these guys kept playing and refused to lose.”
What could go wrong went wrong for the Lions. EMCC quarterback Connor Neville was 28 of 44 passing for 275 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Lions running back Keon Moore fumbled the ball heading into the end zone on a play that would’ve given the Lions a 20-10 lead in the second quarter.
“Credit goes to Hinds. They came out and executed and made plays on third down. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” East Mississippi head coach Buddy Stephens said. “We could never put a drive together on offense. Defensively, we’d either jump offsides or giving up a big play. We can’t turn the ball over, and those things happen. We’ve won a lot of football games like this, and sometimes things don’t go your way.”
On the second play of the game, Neville was intercepted by Hinds’ Jonathan Jordan, and the Eagles capitalized with a 22-yard field goal by Carson Flumm to go up 3-0 with 11:38 left in the first quarter.
Neville redeemed himself on the next drive when he found Jason Brownlee on a 28-yard pass to go up 6-3 with 8:08 left in the opening quarter.
Hinds answered when Jakarius Caston returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to regain the lead at 10-6 with 7:59 left.
EMCC responded when Neville hit Jontarius Henderson on a 18-yard touchdown pass to give the Lions the lead back at 13-10 with 4:18 left.
After a fumble recovery deep in Hinds territory, the Lions had to settle for a Josh Smith 27-yard field goal to go up 16-10.
“We were on the 5-yard line going in and had the wrong personal in on third down, and that’s on me,” Stephens said.
Hinds took a 17-16 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter on a Don Ragsdale 1-yard touchdown run.
With 4:23 left in the game, EMCC’s Kentavious McMillian intercepted an Elijah Walker pass on fourth down.
On the ensuing drive, Hinds’ DeMario Nichols intercepted an overthrown pass by Neville and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown with 2:33 remaining. The Eagles ggt a fourth-down stop at the East Mississippi 44-yard line with 46 seconds left to end it.
“I (ask) the guys all the time, ‘What are you going to do when the opportunity presents itself?’” Williams said. “Guys stepped up and made big plays tonight. Now we have to go back and fix things and get ready for next week.”
For the Lions (0-1), it’s about bouncing back.
“We are going to learn a lot about our team now and its resiliency,” Stephens said. “We have a long way to go, and we have a lot of things to correct, and that starts (Friday).”
Next week, Hinds will travel to Mississippi Delta, while EMCC will host Pearl River.