SCOOBA – The fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College close out their regular season on the road by taking on the seventh-ranked Hinds Community College Eagles Saturday afternoon in Raymond. Saturday's MACJC Top 10 gridiron showdown is set for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Gene Murphy Field at Joe Renfroe Stadium.
Climbing two notches to No. 5 nationally in this week's NJCAA Top 20 poll, the EMCC Lions are 7-1 overall after wrapping up their MACJC North Division slate at 5-1 and clinching another state playoff berth with last Saturday's 72-7 Homecoming victory over the Coahoma Tigers. On the way to putting up a season-high 72 points a week ago against Coahoma, EMCC tallied six offensive touchdowns – four rushing and two passing – along with two pick-six scores and a pair of special teams trips to the end zone via blocked punts.
Finalized with third-ranked Northwest Mississippi's Thursday win at Northeast Mississippi, the Rangers (7-1, 5-1 in MACJC North) had essentially clinched the MACJC North Division championship by virtue of their 61-38 home win over EMCC (7-1, 5-1) two weeks ago in Senatobia. Itawamba (5-3, 4-1), which plays host to Holmes during Saturday's Homecoming in Fulton, also figures into the division title equation with a current 4-1 division mark. Despite knocking off Northwest to begin division play (27-24 on Sept. 14), the Indians would get left out of the playoff picture based on the MACJC's three-way tiebreaker rule using overall season records.
The MACJC's South Division race was decided last week when eighth-ranked Jones County (7-1, 5-0) claimed a 41-36 home victory over division runner-up Hinds (6-1, 5-1) to solidify the playoff-bound teams from the MACJC South. The JCJC Bobcats travel to Perkinston on Saturday to take on division foe Mississippi Gulf Coast (5-3, 3-2).
Set for Saturday, Nov. 4, the MACJC's state semifinals, featuring four teams all currently ranked among the Top 8 nationally, will have MACJC North champion Northwest Mississippi playing host to MACJC South runner-up Hinds along with MACJC North runner-up EMCC traveling to MACJC South champion Jones County. The winners of the two state semifinal games will play for the MACJC football title the following Saturday (Nov. 11) at the site of the highest seeded MACJC North team remaining in the playoffs.
Ranked first nationally averaging 50.9 points per contest on the year, the EMCC Lions average a state-most 506.5 yards of total offense per game to stand fifth among the NJCAA's team statistical leaders. Along with ranking fourth in the NJCAA with an average of 309.5 passing yards per contest, East Mississippi is also tied with Holmes for third nationally with 28 rushing touchdowns for the season.
Individually among the nation's leaders, EMCC quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., a transfer from LSU, currently stands third among the NJCAA ranks in passing yards per game (297.6 yds/gm), fourth in pass completion percentage (66.8%) and sixth in passing touchdowns (20).
Also for the Lions, sophomore running back Tyrell Price is tied for third nationally with 14 rushing touchdowns on the year, while transfer receiver Mike Williams is tied for fifth among the NJCAA's leaders with seven touchdown catches. In addition, EMCC sophomore kicker/punter Taylor Crabtree ranks fifth nationally with a state-most 66 kicking points, including an NJCAA-high 48 made points after touchdown in as many attempts this season.
Guided by first-year head coach Larry Williams, who succeeded the retired Gene Murphy prior to the start of the season, seventh-ranked Hinds is 6-1 overall on the season as MACJC South Division runners-up (5-1) after dropping a 41-36 decision at Jones County this past Saturday. Prior to that, the Eagles were ranked as high as No. 4 within the NJCAA Top 20 after defeating Itawamba (35-31), Southwest Mississippi (40-14), Pearl River (42-16), Mississippi Gulf Coast (28-21), Copiah-Lincoln (16-15) and East Central (34-17). Now in his fifth season in his second stint as Hinds' defensive coordinator, Williams spent the 2010 season as EMCC's defensive line coach.
With a 10-year overall head coaching record of 94-13 (.879) as EMCC's all-time career wins leader and the NJCAA's all-time leader in career winning percentage for coaches with 100 or more career games coached, Buddy Stephens owns a 3-1 career mark against Hinds. A year ago (Oct. 27), the Lions closed out the 2016 regular season with a 42-0 blanking of the Eagles in Scooba. Prior to last season, EMCC knocked off Hinds twice during the 2011 campaign en route to claiming the school's first national championship. After earning a tight 20-17 regular-season decision in Raymond during Week 2 (Sept. 8, 2011), the Lions posted a 55-24 home triumph over the Eagles during the MACJC state semifinals played in Scooba. The year prior (Sept. 9, 2010) in Scooba, Hinds prevailed by a 50-42 final in a game contested at EMCC's previous Sullivan-Windham Field site.