|No. 5 EMCC earns 11th win with 27-24 Mississippi Bowl victory over Arizona Western|
BILOXI – The fifth-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College capped the most successful football season in school history by holding on for a 27-24 victory over No. 6 Arizona Western College Sunday afternoon in the 2009 Mississippi Bowl played at Biloxi Indian Stadium.
With the victory in Biloxi’s second annual bowl event, head coach Buddy Stephens’ 11-1 EMCC Lions established a new all-time school standard for most wins in a season, breaking the previous mark of 10-1-1 set by Hall of Fame head coach Bob “Bull” Sullivan’s 1963 EMJC squad. The 1963 campaign also marked the last time the Lions had appeared in a postseason bowl game prior to this year.
East Mississippi’s first bowl appearance in 46 years began in spectacular fashion for the designated home team, as sophomore wide receiver Derrick Steele of Utica returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a score. The extra point was missed by Brett Spencer. Steele helped put the Lions on top 13-0 later in the period by taking a Randall Mackey screen pass 56 yards to the end zone with 5:41 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Yuma-based Matadors got on the board three minutes later with freshman Reggie Bullock plunging in from 1 yard out. In what started out as another apparent shootout for the Lions, Mackey threw for his second touchdown of the first quarter by connecting with sophomore Cedrick Blanks of Meridian on a 27-yard scoring toss. Blanks’ first touchdown catch of the season and resulting PAT gave EMCC the 20-7 lead to close out the first period of play.
The second quarter marked the beginning of a change of momentum, as Arizona Western scored twice to cut the deficit to 20-17 heading into intermission. Bullock’s 10-yard touchdown run early in the period was followed by a 26-yard field goal by AWC’s Othello Kossigbo coming at the 1:05 mark.
The 9-2 Matadors, regular-season champions of the Western States Football League, continued their run of 17 unanswered points when Bullock tallied his third scoring run of the afternoon – from 36 yards out – to give the visitors their first lead of the day at 24-20 with 12:51 left in the third quarter. Entering the contest leading the NJCAA in rushing yards per game (162.1 yds/gm), Bullock finished the afternoon with 116 yards on 29 carries, while raising his season’s total to 20 rushing touchdowns.
Arizona Western squandered an opportunity to increase its lead following a bad snap on an EMCC punt attempt that gave the Matadors the ball at the 30-yard line. After completing a fourth-and-10 pass conversion followed by a successful third-and-14 pass play to set up a prime first-and-goal opportunity from the 8-yard line, AWC was stymied by the Lions’ defensive front on three straight run attempts. To make matters worse for the Matadors, Kossigbo’s 25-yard field-goal attempt missed left.
The Lions, first-time champions of the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges, channeled the defensive stop into a 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated with Mackey finding sophomore Lance Lewis on a 5-yard lob pass in the left corner of the end zone on the final play of the third quarter. The eventual game-winning play resulted in Lewis’ 16th scoring grab of the season and Mackey’s 32nd touchdown toss of 2009.
Arizona Western made another bid to knot the score on its next drive, but this time Kossigbo missed right on a 31-yard field-goal attempt with 10:39 remaining in the contest. As they did previously, the Lions looked to turn the misfortune into additional points. However, EMCC’s resulting 16-play drive was halted on a third-and-five play when Mackey was sacked and removed from the game with an injured left shoulder. The Lions couldn’t convert on the subsequent fourth-and-eight attempt, and AWC took over on its own 16-yard line.
After relying on its offense to pull out many victories throughout the season, EMCC’s defense would secure the school’s first-ever, 11-win season with a pair of pass interceptions over the final four minutes of the contest. First, freshman safety Izauea Lanier, of Gordo, Ala., picked off AWC’s Brandon Gorsuch at midfield and returned his fourth pick of the year to the 19-yard line. With Mackey still out of the game, the Lions went four-and-out and surrendered the ball back to the Matadors on their own 22-yard line.
Despite being slowed by a pair of delay-of-game penalties and an 8-yard sack of Gorsuch by EMCC’s John Rice, Arizona Western mounted a potential scoring drive by converting on a key third-and-23 pass play and later on a clutch fourth-and-10 pass conversion over the middle of the field. However, the Lions’ T.J. Ballou, a converted wide receiver and a former University of Alabama walk-on from Northeast Lauderdale High School, sealed the three-point victory with his first collegiate pass interception coming with 46 seconds left on the game clock.
With three receptions for 68 yards on the day, including the 56-yard scoring grab following his game-opening, 90-yard kickoff return, Steele was named EMCC’s Offensive MVP for the game. Sophomore defensive end Claude Davis was chosen the Lions’ Defensive MVP. Mackey, a two-time NJCAA Region 23 Offensive MVP, was also presented a post-game honor by the Mississippi Bowl Committee as the MVP of EMCC’s 2009 state championship team after completing 26-of-34 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona Western. The Louisiana native also ran for a team-high 49 yards on 10 carries in the Mississippi Bowl victory.
|Last Updated ( Monday, 07 December 2009 )|
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