SENATOBIA – The top-ranked and reigning state champion Lions of East Mississippi Community College fell in MACJC North Division play for the first time since 2012 by suffering a 61-38 road setback to 10th-ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College Thursday evening at Bobby Franklin Field.
Along with having the team's 28-game, regular-season division winning streak snapped, EMCC also had halted its 17-game overall win string dating back to last season. In addition, the loss marked just the 13th setback of 10th-year head coach Buddy Stephens' 106-game career with the Lions.
Thursday's Top 10 MACJC showdown and rematch of last year's state championship game began with Taylor Crabtree's 32-yard field goal capping EMCC's nine-play, 59-yard drive three minutes into the contest. While the Lions came up empty on their next three possessions, Northwest's Kevin Perkins put the home team on top to stay with touchdown runs of one and six yards coming at the 5:50 mark of the first quarter and 9:37 mark of the second quarter, respectively.
The two teams then traded touchdowns during the remaining portion of the first half to keep it a two-score game heading into the break. Following EMCC quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr.'s 23-yard scoring pass to Daniel Crowell Jr. midway through the quarter, the Rangers countered quickly with Jack Abraham's 35-yard touchdown toss to JaVonta Payton to make it a 21-10 contest with five minutes left in the half.
The Lions wasted little time cutting into the deficit with Scott connecting with receiver Mike Williams on a 55-yard catch and run at the 4:35 mark. As they did all night, the Rangers had an answer by marching 75 yards on 12 plays to move back ahead by two scores on Monta Thomas' 3-yard scoring run with 38 seconds remaining until halftime. A missed point-after-touchdown attempt and a block of Crabtree's 41-yard field goal attempt during the waning seconds kept the home team in front 27-17 heading into intermission.
Northwest continued to keep the Lions on their heels by taking the second-half kickoff and moving 75 yards on seven plays to extend the margin to 34-17 three minutes into the half on Abraham's 9-yard touchdown pass to Payton. Following a scoreless 12-minute stretch that resulted in an exchange of punts, EMCC gained some momentum near the end of the third quarter when Scott connected with Williams on a 9-yard scoring play that again trimmed the deficit to 10 points at 34-24 heading into the 41-point final period controlled by the home team.
During the high-scoring fourth quarter, the Rangers squashed any thoughts the visitors had of coming back by converting three EMCC turnovers into touchdowns. After Northwest went ahead 40-24 on Abraham's 10-yard keeper to the right pylon at the 11:37 mark, the Lions fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return to give the ball back on the 15-yard line. Three plays later, Quarderman Sloan's 3-yard cutback run into the end zone extended NWCC's lead to 47-24 with 10 minutes still left to play.
To their credit, the Lions did battle to attempt to get back into the contest by forcing a turnover of their own midway through the final quarter. Following Scott's engineering of a fast-paced, 72-yard drive on six plays that was capped by his 5-yard touchdown keeper to make it a 47-31 contest with eight minutes left in the game, EMCC forced and recovered a Northwest fumble around midfield. However, on a first-down play from the 39-yard line, Scott's pass was intercepted by Brandin Echols and returned 66 yards for a pick six at the 6:17 mark that lengthened the lead to 54-31.
On the Lions' next possession, another Scott pass attempt was picked off by Joshua Norwood to mark their third turnover of the quarter. The miscue was also cashed in by the Rangers with Thomas' 2-yard scoring burst at the 3:57 mark further extending the margin to 30 points (61-31).
A 1-yard keeper by EMCC backup quarterback Ti'Morrius Conner with 1:20 left on the game clock accounted for the game's final score.
Statistically, the game numbers were fairly equal with both teams passing for 314 yards apiece. The Rangers had a slight 252-215 advantage on rushing yardage. Northwest's 21 points scored off EMCC turnovers down the stretch were pivotal in the game's outcome. The Lions were also slowed by being limited to just 4-of-13 third-down conversion attempts for the game.
Still in solid contention for making their ninth MACJC state playoff appearance under Stephens' guidance, the 6-1 EMCC Lions will look to bounce back by playing host to the Coahoma Tigers on Saturday, Oct. 21, as part of East Mississippi Community College's homecoming weekend festivities. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus.