SCOOBA - In a contest featuring 146 total points and 1,219 yards of combined total offense, the No. 7 East Mississippi Lions dethroned two-time defending state champion and third-ranked Mississippi Gulf Coast in a wild 75-71 shootout Saturday afternoon to claim the 2009 MACJC state football championship at EMCC's jam-packed Sullivan-Windham Field.
In claiming the school's first-ever state football title, head coach Buddy Stephens' EMCC squad tied an all-time school standard with its 10th victory of the season. Hall of Fame coach Bob "Bull" Sullivan's 1963 EMJC club went 10-1-1, including an 18-14 victory over Tyler (Texas) JC in the Hospitality Bowl played in Gulfport. Now 18-3 in Stephens' two years at the East Mississippi helm, the Lions moved to 10-1 on the campaign and avenged their lone loss of the year - a 43-26 home setback on Sept. 17 coming at the hands of the same visiting Bulldogs from Perkinston.
East Mississippi now awaits its postseason future as other prominent junior college football action will take place around the nation during the coming week. The Lions could very well be destined for the Mississippi Bowl to be played Sunday, Dec. 6 in Biloxi.
The home-standing Lions, also rated third nationally in the current JC Grid-Wire National Top 25, took an early 14-0 lead in Saturday's slugfest on short scoring bursts of 2 and 4 yards by sophomore running back Pat Shed. The former Starkville High School standout scored from a yard out later in the contest to raise his total to 10 rushing touchdowns on the year and 21 for his career. Though only gaining 15 rushing yards on just seven carries for the day, Shed enjoyed a stellar outing as a receiver with seven catches for a team-high 147 yards, including a 43-yard, catch-and-run score late in the first half to stake the Lions to a 34-26 halftime advantage.
On the heels of Shed's opening touchdowns, the visitors grabbed a temporary lead with three straight scores spanning the first and second quarters. Touchdowns strikes of 31 and 26 yards to Joe Burnett and Kelvin Bolden, respectively, from Greg Jenkins were followed by a 52-yard interception for a score off an errant Randall Mackey aerial by Bradley Jacobs to give the Bulldogs a 19-14 lead one minute into the second quarter.
With a second straight NJCAA Region 23 MVP honor under his belt, Mackey atoned for his earlier turnover by hitting freshman Marcus McQuarley of Meridian with a 47-yard scoring toss at the 12:40 mark and a 30-yarder to sophomore Lance Lewis with 4:33 remaining in the half. The teams added another touchdown apiece to give EMCC the eight-point lead at the break.
The respective divisional champions combined for 48 points in the third quarter alone, which featured three touchdown runs by MGCCC's Vick Ballard, including a 50-yarder. The Lions' answer to Ballard's third of four scores on the day was a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by All-Region 23 return specialist British Footman. The freshman from Tallahassee, Fla., had two punt returns for scores during the regular season.
With the score tied at 54-54 heading into the final period, Ballard and Shed traded 1-yard scores to keep the game deadlocked at 61-61 midway through the fourth quarter. After EMCC's defense limited Gulf Coast to a 29-yard field goal by Bo Bryan at the 6:49 mark, Mackey found Lewis once again in the left corner of the end zone from 11 yards out to make it a 68-64 contest in favor of the Lions.
EMCC's precarious lead would not last long, however, as Bolden hauled in his third touchdown grab of the game - an 18-yarder from Jenkins - to put the visitors back on top by a 71-68 tally with 2:48 remaining in the offensive shootout. With the two teams matching score for score since the second quarter, the Lion tandem of Mackey and Lewis hooked up for the would-be winning touchdown following a costly Gulf Coast roughing-the-passer penalty. With their fourth scoring connection on the game, Mackey found Lewis once again in the left corner of the end zone from 32 yards out with only 1:38 left on the clock.
The Lions' seventh straight victory of the season was preserved by sophomore free safety Anthony Hines with a game-saving interception in the end zone on a third-and-one attempt from the 22-yard line. The pick was the former Starkville High School standout's team-leading seventh interception of the season - fifth in the last three games.
Mackey, EMCC's preseason NJCAA All-American ended the game 31-of-42 through the air for 477 passing yards and seven touchdowns along with 125 rushing yards on 18 carries. The Louisiana native now has 29 touchdown passes on the year and 53 for his two-year career. Lewis, of Concord, N.C., eclipsed the century mark for receiving yards for the fifth time this season, finishing with a season-high nine catches for 134 yards and four touchdowns.
Gulf Coast's Ballard had 186 rushing yards on 33 carries, including four touchdowns, while Jenkins completed 14-of-25 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns. Bolden was Jenkins' primary target for the day with eight grabs for 260 yards and three scores.