EMCC Lions collect eighth conference title with 36-28 win at No. 2 Northwest in MACCC Championship

Published 12:19 pm Monday, November 14, 2022

SENATOBIA – The 12th-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College claimed their eighth conference football championship in 14 years by upsetting No. 2 Northwest Mississippi, 36-28, during Saturday afternoon’s 2022 MACCC Football Championship Game played at Ranger Stadium at Bobby Franklin Field.

Having never trailed in the contest, the EMCC Lions scored the game’s first 20 points on the way to returning to the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference’s football elite by adding onto their previous league championships earned in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. East Mississippi also remained unbeaten (8-0) in conference championship games.

Looking to avenge their 38-21 loss to Northwest earlier in the year (Sept. 29) in Scooba, the Lions got on the scoreboard first in the rematch by moving 43 yards on 10 plays during the opening drive before settling for Cole Arthur’s 37-yard field goal at the 11:54 mark.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

EMCC’s first touchdown of the game was of the defensive variety and came just 43 seconds later when Ren Hefley’s second pass of the contest deflected off a game official into the arms of EMCC linebacker Rodney Gross Jr., who bolted 22 yards into the end zone on the interception return. Arthur’s successful PAT made it 10-0 with 11:11 left in the opening quarter.

The Lions’ defense also set up their next touchdown two possessions later. After EMCC’s Eli Anderson was intercepted, the visitors sacked Hefley two plays later and recovered the fumble. A seven-play, 60-yard drive was extended by Anderson’s timely 23-yard completion to Tommie Johnson Jr. just prior to Mike McGowan’s 28-yard scoring run that extended the lead to 17-0 with 4:08 remaining in the first quarter.

EMCC’s string of unanswered points scored to open the title tilt increased to 20 on Arthur’s 29-yard field goal that capped a 15-play, 60-yard drive two minutes into the second quarter.

The Rangers benefitted from a couple of EMCC penalties during a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive to get on the board with a 3-yard touchdown toss from Hefley to D.T. Sheffield. Northwest’s first score of the day cut the deficit to 20-7 with 7:54 left in the first half.

Both teams had opportunities to score more points over the final three minutes of the first half, but turnovers nullified their chances. After Anderson was intercepted at the goal line, EMCC’s Steven Cattledge Jr. lived up to his reigning NJCAA/MACCC Defensive Player of the Week billing by sacking Hefley and causing a fumble recovered by the Lions just prior to the half.

Coming out of the halftime break, the Lions forced a Northwest three-and-out and then proceeded to take advantage of two costly Ranger penalties in reclaiming their largest lead of the game with a seven-play, 87-yard scoring drive. EMCC went up, 27-7, four minutes into the second half on Anderson’s 34-yard scoring strike to Duke Miller.

The Rangers answered on their subsequent drive by marching 65 yards on 10 plays, including a pair of drive-extending completions to Sheffield, before cutting the margin to 27-14 on Hefley’s 9-yard scoring pass to E. Jai Mason at the 7:31 mark.

After EMCC’s Arthur added his third field goal of the game, a 32-yarder, four minutes later to make it a 30-14 contest, the two teams traded three-and-outs before NWCC gained momentum at the end of the quarter that carried into the start of the final period. Following a clutch 11-yard, first-down run by Xavier Davis on a third-and-10 play from EMCC’s 40-yard line, Hefley and Sheffield connected on a 29-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left in the third quarter. The two then reversed roles to complete the two-point conversion attempt through the air to make it a one-possession game at 30-22.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Northwest’s defensive unit maintained the momentum by forcing a three-and-out on EMCC’s next possession. The Rangers promptly drove 60 yards on eight plays to pull to within two points (30-28) on Jamarien Bracey’s 2-yard scoring burst four minutes into the quarter. The potential game-tying, two-point try was denied when Reggie Neely picked off the pass attempt.

With the outcome potentially on the line after the two-time reigning MACCC champions had reeled off 14 unanswered points, EMCC’s Anderson directed the Lions on an 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive that ultimately decided the outcome. On a third-and-14 play, the two-time NJCAA/MACCC Offensive Player of the Week out of Neshoba Central High School hit Miller making a 24-yard post route to the end zone at the 6:37 mark. The PAT attempt was muffed on the exchange to keep it a one-possession contest (36-28).

On what would be their final possession of the contest, the Rangers received consecutive rushing plays of 30 and 11 yards to give themselves a first-and-10 opportunity from EMCC’s 19-yard line. The Lions’ defense stepped up to force a no-gain on the ground and an incompletion before Cattledge again made his presence known by making a 4-yard tackle for loss on a completed pass. After another incomplete pass on a fourth-and-14 play from the 23-yard line, EMCC got the ball back on downs and ran out the remaining 3:41 on the game clock.

Statistically, East Mississippi (7-3) outgained Northwest (10-1) by a 32-21 margin in first downs and 508-289 in total offense yards. The Lions owned the advantage over the Rangers both through the air (283-183) and on the ground (225-106).

Individually for the Lions, Anderson was 29-of-45 for 283 passing yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions thrown. Josh Aka was his top target with six catches (32 yds), though Miller (86 yds & 2 TDs), Carl Robinson (45 yds) and Kobe Chambers (36 yds) all had five receptions apiece for EMCC.

On the ground, EMCC’s running back tandem of Amariyon Howard (15-111 yds) and McGowan (14-77 yds) outrushed Northwest’s duo of Cayden Betts (10-69 yds) and Bracey (13-45 yds) by a 188-114 total yardage margin.