With second place in the MACJC’s North Division on the line, the Lions of East Mississippi kick off a two-game football homestand by playing host to the Northeast Mississippi Tigers today at 7 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field.
With both teams currently tied for the runner-up spot in the North Division with identical 2-1 league marks behind undefeated and seventh-ranked Northwest Mississippi, the winner of today’s EMCC-Northeast contest figures to become a midseason frontrunner to likely challenge for one of the two divisional spots for this year’s MACJC state playoffs.
Third-year EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens’ 2-3 EMCC Lions have solidly rebounded from a season-opening, three-game losing skid by posting impressive divisional road wins against Itawamba and Coahoma the past two weeks. Most recently, the reigning state champions claimed a decisive 49-14 triumph at Coahoma last Thursday. The week prior in Fulton, EMCC shut out Itawamba in the second half en route to registering a 37-10 road victory against the Indians. The Lions’ setbacks this year have come against current-No. 7 Northwest Mississippi, former No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast and previously ranked Hinds.
With veteran quarterback Brad Henderson settling in as East Mississippi’s signal-caller, the Lions enter this week’s action ranked fourth among the NJCAA’s team statistical leaders in passing offense (276.6 yards per game) and No. 10 in team total offense (414.6 yds/gm). Individually, Henderson rates fourth nationally in passing offense (246.2 yds/gm) and No. 5 in total offense (278.2 yds/gm). He generated 277 yards of total offense with five touchdown passes in last week’s 35-point victory at Coahoma.
East Mississippi’s potent passing attack is supplemented by the versatile tandem of sophomore running backs Floyd Graves (Newton County HS) and Trayshun King. Graves and King have combined to rush for better than 450 yards and seven touchdowns on the year along with making 26 receptions between them.
Through the air, the Lions feature 10 different receivers with seven or more catches on the season, including eight with double-digit grabs. Leading the way is former Noxubee County All-American Pat Patterson with 20 receptions for 329 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and two scoring grabs. Former prep teammates Hamp Glover and Marcus McQuarley of Meridian High School follow with 16 and 14 catches, respectively. Additionally, eight different EMCC receivers have been the recipient of touchdown passes on the year.
Having limited Coahoma and Itawamba to 45 and 63 team passing yards, respectively, in recent back-to-back divisional road triumphs, EMCC has improved to rank fourth among MACJC schools in team passing defense with an average of 148.2 yards allowed per outing. With three interceptions in his last two outings, including a pair of picks and a 66-yard fumble recovery for a score at Coahoma a week ago, sophomore safety Perrance Ward is currently tied for 11th nationally with his three interceptions for the season.
Guided by third-year head coach Ricky Smither, the Tigers of Northeast Mississippi are 3-2 overall and 2-1 in North Division play after dropping a 26-6 home decision to division leader Northwest last week. Headlined by a nationally ranked defense that stands second (behind Copiah-Lincoln) among the MACJC team ranks in total defense (264.2 yards allowed per game), Northeast has knocked off divisional foes Mississippi Delta (26-13) and Holmes (35-20) this season.
With a current series winning streak of four straight games against Northeast dating back to 2006, the Lions have recorded convincing victories of 48-10 last year during Homecoming 2009 in Scooba and 49-0 the previous season in Booneville. Now 21-6 overall since Stephens took over EMCC’s head coaching duties in 2008, the two-time reigning MACJC North Division champions are 14-1 in divisional play under his guidance the past three seasons.