No. 2 East Mississippi downs No. 5 Gulf Coast 42-17 to grab second MACJC state football championship in three years

SCOOBA – The second-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College scored 35 unanswered, second-half points to claim their second MACJC state football championship in three years with a 42-17 home triumph over No. 5 and defending state champion Mississippi Gulf Coast CC Saturday afternoon at EMCC’s New Sullivan-Windham Field.

In matching their school-best, 11-win season of two years ago when they captured the 2009 state title with a memorable 75-71 shootout victory over MGCCC, head coach Buddy Stephens’ 11-0 EMCC Lions will now wait until the NJCAA’s pre-bowl season rankings come out on Monday to find out whether or not they’ve done enough to bypass current No. 1 Arizona Western College in the rankings.

The NJCAA’s six post-Thanksgiving bowl games will be able to invite and announce their selections on Tuesday at noon CST. With their state championship, the EMCC Lions earn an automatic invitation to compete in the Mississippi Bowl, set for Sunday, Dec. 4, at Biloxi Indians Stadium. However, East Mississippi would have the option of entertaining other bowl game opportunities if it means playing for a national championship. Arizona Western will serve as hosts for the 2011 El Toro Bowl, to be played Saturday, Dec. 3, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Yuma, Ariz. In the 2009 Mississippi Bowl, EMCC posted a 27-24 victory over the AWC Matadors.

Much like they did a week ago in their 55-24 playoff-opening home win over then-No. 14 Hinds CC, the EMCC Lions used a dominating second-half performance to pull away with Saturday’s win over visiting Gulf Coast. After trailing the Bulldogs, 17-7, four minutes into the second half, the Lions exploded for five unanswered touchdowns, including four scores in the final period, to cruise to their seventh victory of the year over an opponent that is either currently ranked in the NJCAA Top 20 or was ranked at some point during the 2011 campaign. Last week against Hinds, EMCC used a 28-0 second-half surge to blow open a 27-24 halftime lead against the visiting Eagles.

The home team got on the board first when Lacoltan Bester snared his first of three touchdown grabs on the day via a 32-yard hookup with freshman quarterback Bo Wallace at the 10:12 mark of the opening period. Just over four minutes later, Gulf Coast quarterback Clint Hatten connected with receiver Travonta Thomas from 26 yards out to even the score at 7-all with 6:02 left in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs ate up nearly half of the second-quarter game clock with a 16-play drive that was halted at the 5-yard line but culminated with a 22-yard field goal by Taylor Pontius. Both teams had chances to put up additional points over the final five minutes of the half. Wallace’s 1-yard sneak into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play with 5:08 left was nullified by an illegal procedure penalty and resulting 15-yard unsportsmanlike infraction. Taylor Walker’s subsequent 37-yard field-goal attempt was blocked by MGCCC. Another 16-play Gulf Coast drive milked the remaining 4:55 off the game clock, though the Bulldogs’ 25-yard field-goal try failed when a bad snap was bobbled by the holder and the ensuing desperation pass was picked off by an EMCC defender in the end zone on the final play of the half.

With East Mississippi trailing at the intermission for the first time on the year, the visitors from Perkinston added to their 10-7 halftime lead when running back Reginald Matthews barreled in from a yard out to put the Bulldogs out in front by a 17-7 margin four minutes into the second stanza.

Following an empty possession by EMCC and a missed 48-yard field-goal attempt by Gulf Coast, the Lions’ potent offensive attack got rolling toward the end of the third quarter. Wallace capped a 13-play drive with a 3-yard strike over the middle to Bester with 1:31 left in the third quarter to bring EMCC to within a field goal at 17-14.

The Lions’ new-found momentum was temporarily sidetracked on the ensuing kickoff when Gulf Coast’s Alonzo Lawrence returned the kick to EMCC’s 37-yard line. After forcing a field-goal attempt, the home team reclaimed the momentum as Pontius’ 30-yard three-point try drifted left with 13:23 remaining in the contest.

Having entered the championship contest averaging 47.2 points per game, the quick-strike East Mississippi offensive juggernaut exploded for four straight touchdowns over an eight-minute stretch in the fourth quarter to put away the contest in impressive fashion. That explosion ignited when the Lions reclaimed the lead for good, 21-17, as a scrambling Wallace heaved the ball toward the end zone and Bester made an acrobatic catch from 21 yards out for his third touchdown catch of the day with 10:10 left in the contest.

Bester, a former Kemper County High School standout, celebrated his 20th birthday by collecting nine receptions for 139 yards, including the trio of scoring grabs.

The momentum further turned in favor of the home team on the ensuing Gulf Coast possession when Hatten’s fumble on the second play of the drive was recovered near midfield by EMCC freshman safety Justin Cox. Eight plays later, Wallace hit running back Rodriguez Moore on the right wing, who scooted the remaining five yards for his first touchdown reception of the year. Moore, from Bastrop, La., added to his 1,124-yard rushing total on the season with 61 yards on 18 carries against the Bulldogs, including his 13-yard scoring burst on the ground that made it a 35-17 contest with 2:31 left in the game.

EMCC’s final points of the afternoon came on the next play from scrimmage when sophomore defensive back Jeremy Cannon picked off Hatten’s pass near midfield and raced 49 yards to pay dirt for his second interception of the year. The former West Point High School standout had previously scored this year on a 67-yard fumble recovery in the Lions’ 45-42 road win over then-No. 4 Northwest Mississippi during the third week of the season.

Wallace, who redshirted last season at Arkansas State University, added to his NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year candidacy by throwing for 334 yards and four touchdowns on 29-of-46 passing for the day. In doing so, the Pulaski, Tenn., native eclipsed a pair of decade-old NJCAA single-season statistical standards. Wallace entered the game needing 232 passing yards to break the previous mark of 4,001 yards set by Marc Dunn of Ricks College in 2000, while also needing 114 yards of total offense to surpass the prior record of 4,075 yards established by Will Hall of Northwest Mississippi CC in 2000 as well.

Contact: David Rosinski, EMCC Sports Information Director
Office: (662) 476-5042;

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