SENATOBIA, Mississippi (WTOK) — The 12th Lions of East Mississippi Community College clinched their eighth conference football championship in 14 years by beating No. 2 Northwest Mississippi, 36-28, during the 2022 MACCC Football Championship Game Saturday afternoon at the Rangers upset stadium at Bobby Franklin Field.
Never behind in the competition, the EMCC Lions scored the first 20 points of the game en route to returning to the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference football elite by reclaiming their previous championships in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016 , 2017 and 2018. East Mississippi also went undefeated in conference championship games (8-0).
To avenge their 38-21 loss to Northwest earlier in the year (Sept. 29) at Scooba, the Lions got on the scoreboard first in the rematch, moving 43 yards in 10 games during the opening run before moving with Cole Arthur’s 37-yard field goal at 11:54 a.m.
EMCC’s first touchdown of the game was defensive in nature and came just 43 seconds later when Ren Hefley’s second pass of the contest was deflected by an on-game official into the arms of EMCC linebacker Rodney Gross Jr., who rushed 22 yards into the end zone for the interception return . Arthur’s successful PAT made it 10-0 with 11:11 in the opening quarter.
The Lions defense also set up their next touchdown two possessions later. After Eli Anderson was intercepted by EMCC, the visitors sacked Hefley two games later and recovered the fumble. A seven-play 60-yard drive was extended by Anderson’s timely 23-yard finish to Tommie Johnson Jr. just before Mike McGowan’s 28-yard scoring run extended the lead to 17-0, with 4:08 in the first quarters remained.
EMCC’s streak of unanswered points, scored to open the title, rose to 20 on Arthur’s 29-yard field goal, which capped a 15-play 60-yard drive two minutes into the second quarter.
The Rangers benefited from some EMCC penalties during a 13-game scoring drive for 75 yards to get on the board with a 3-yard touchdown throw from Hefley against DT Sheffield. Northwest’s first goal of the day reduced the deficit to 20:7, with 7:54 remaining in the first half.
Both teams had chances to score more points in the last three minutes of the first half, but losses of turnover ended their chances. After Anderson was intercepted at the goal-line, EMCC’s Steven Cattledge Jr. did justice to his reigning NJCAA/MACCC Defensive Player of the Week by firing Hefley and causing a fumble from the Lions just before halftime.
After the halftime break, the Lions forced a three-and-out for Northwest and then used two expensive Ranger penalties to regain their biggest lead of the game with an 87-yard scoring drive in seven games. EMCC went 27-7 four minutes into the second half when Anderson put in a shot on goal for Duke Miller from 34 yards.
Rangers responded on their subsequent drive by marching 65 yards in 10 games, including two drive extension completions to Sheffield before closing the lead to 27-14 on Hefley’s 9-yard scoring pass to E. Jai Mason of the 7 shortened: 31 marks.
After EMCC’s Arthur added his third field goal of the game, a 32-yarder, four minutes later to make it a 30-14 fight, the two teams traded 3-and-outs before NWCC at the end of the quarter, that carried gained momentum early in the closing stages. After an 11-yard first down run by Xavier Davis on a game of 3 and 10 from EMCC’s 40-yard line, Hefley and Sheffield connected with a 29-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left in the third Quarter. The two then switched roles to complete the two-point conversion attempt through the air and make it a possession game at 30-22.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Northwest’s defense kept the momentum going by forcing a three-and-off on EMCC’s next possession. The Rangers promptly rushed for 60 yards in eight games to go by two points (30-28) when Jamarien Bracey hit a 2-yard scoring burst four minutes into the quarter. The potentially game-winning two-point try was denied when Reggie Neely picked up the pass attempt.
After the two-time reigning MACCC champions reeled off 14 unanswered points, the result may have been at stake. EMCC’s Anderson led the Lions to an 11-game, 77-yard scoring drive that ultimately decided the outcome. In a third and 14th game, the two-time NJCAA/MACCC Offensive Player of the Week from Neshoba Central High School scored Miller and made a 24-yard post route into the end zone at the 6:37 mark. The PAT attempt was muted at the exchange to make it a one-ball possession contest (36-28).
On their final possession of the contest, Rangers received back-to-back rushing plays from 30 and 11 yards to give themselves a first-and-10 chance from EMCC’s 19-yard line. The Lions defense reinforced to force a no-gain on the ground and an incomplete before Cattledge again announced his presence by making a 4-yard tackle for the loss on a completed pass. After another incomplete pass on a fourth and 14th 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) has outstripped Northwest (10-1) by a 32-21 lead in first downs and 508-289 in offense yards overall. The Lions had the advantage over the Rangers in both 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 two interceptions thrown. Josh Aka was his top target with six catches (32 yards), although Miller (86 yards & 2 TDs), Carl Robinson (45 yards), and Kobe Chambers (36 yards) all had five receptions each for EMCC.
On the ground, EMCC’s running back tandem Amariyon Howard (15-111 yards) and McGowan (14-77 yards) beat Northwest’s duo of Cayden Betts (10-69 yards) and Bracey (13-45 yards) with a 188-114 overall yardage margin .
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