SCOOBA, Miss. (WCBI/EMCC Athletics) – Top-ranked East Mississippi Community College forced five Pearl River turnovers en route to successfully kicking off the 2012 MACJC football season with a 35-15 home victory over the visiting Wildcats Saturday afternoon at Sullivan-Windham Field.
Two minutes after PRCC opened the game’s scoring on Brandon King’s 31-yard field goal at the 11:05 mark of the first quarter, sophomore running back Rodriguez Moore put the home-standing Lions on top with a 39-yard scoring run around left end on a fourth-and-one call. EMCC freshman kicker Morgan Rhodes’ first of five straight successful PAT attempts made it 7-3 with 9:15 left in the opening quarter.
The two teams then traded a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter, beginning with a 5-yard scoring pass from PRCC’s Dylan Favre to Shawn Jones at the 13:27 mark. However, King’s PAT was blocked to keep the score at 9-7 in favor of the visitors. Managing to keep possession during a stalled drive because of an off-sides penalty on a punt, EMCC freshman quarterback Quez Johnson answered by connecting with sophomore transfer receiver Corey Smith on a 60-yard scoring play down the left side of the field. Rhodes’ point-after kick put the home team back in front 14-9.
Pearl River responded late in the quarter when Favre hit Darius Holder from 29 yards out to take a temporary one-point lead. The Wildcats’ two-point pass attempt failed and kept the score at 15-14 with 4:18 remaining until halftime. PRCC’s slim lead would not last long, however, as freshman LeDarious Clark, of Southeast Lauderdale High School, quickly put the Lions back in prime scoring position by returning the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to the 26-yard line. Four plays and less than a minute later, Johnson found Ole Miss transfer Nick Brassell all alone in the right corner of the end zone for an 11-yard scoring strike and a resulting 21-15 advantage following the PAT conversion.
With Favre at the controls, the visitors threatened one last time prior to the intermission. Poised at EMCC’s 10-yard line with under a minute remaining, the former Mississippi State transfer and nephew of retired NFL great Brett Favre was sacked and stripped of the ball by sophomore defensive end Za’Darius Smith. Sophomore teammate Lauren Jackson recovered the fumble and the Lions promptly ran out the opening-half clock.
A scoreless third quarter was primarily headlined by a 41-minute weather delay due to lightning that halted play about a minute into the second half during Pearl River’s opening drive.
The momentum of the tight, season-opening contest was sparked by EMCC’s defensive unit following the game delay. Early in the fourth quarter, Pearl River’s Jamal Hall fumbled in the red zone and the loose ball was recovered by University of Georgia commit Shaquille Fluker at the 17-yard line. Though the Lions couldn’t capitalize on PRCC’s second lost fumble of the afternoon, their defensive secondary stepped to the forefront with three interceptions over the final eight minutes of the contest.
Sophomore cornerback Jason Yarbor had the first pick of the afternoon and the third of his collegiate career to begin the thievery down the stretch. After subsequently forcing a three-and-out series, the Lions made it a two-score contest when Johnson targeted Starkville’s Billy Shed in the left corner of the end zone from 19 yards out to make it a 28-15 ballgame with just 2:20 left.
With the Wildcats forced to air it out over the final couple of minutes, EMCC’s Fluker, of Meridian, struck again by picking off his third career interception and running it back 56 yards to pay dirt to account for the 35-15 final. The Lions completed the defensive hat trick on Pearl River’s next possession, as freshman Byerson Cockrell, of Columbus, intercepted Favre’s third pass of the quarter.
Making his collegiate debut under center, EMCC’s Johnson was 16-of-38 through the air for 214 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The former Starkville High School product hit six different receivers on the day, led by Smith’s five catches for 109 yards and Brassell’s four grabs for 42 yards.
EMCC’s balanced offensive attack was supplemented by Moore’s 112 rushing yards on 16 carries. Finishing fourth nationally with 1,303 rushing yards a year ago, the Bastrop, La., native posted his seventh 100-yard ground effort of his collegiate career.
For the visitors, Favre connected on 41-of-61 passes for 340 yards with two touchdowns and the three picks.
Now 37-8 overall under fifth-year head coach Buddy Stephens’ guidance, the reigning NJCAA National Champion EMCC Lions take to the road to face the Warriors of East Central Community College Thursday evening, Sept. 6, in Decatur. Kickoff time for the first EMCC-ECCC gridiron battle since the 2007 season opener is set for 6:30 p.m. at Bailey Stadium.