Itawamba Community College running back Hiram Wadlington (9) runs between East Mississippi C.C. defenders in the first quarter Thursday night in Fulton. Photo by: Lee Adams/ICCImages.com
September 14, 2018 10:27:16 AM
FULTON -- Conventional wisdom told East Mississippi Community College sophomore defensive back JaQuez Akins he might not be directly involved in a goal-line play.
That doesn't mean Akins wasn't rooting for an outcome and was pleased when it happened.
"Our defensive line was incredible," Akins said. "When you make a goal-line stop, it energizes the whole team. It pumps everybody up. It shows that never-give-up attitude. It is important to fight down to that final yard."
No. 1 EMCC held Itawamba C.C. to two field goals on three trips to the 1-yard line. That early defensive success helped paved the way for a 56-26 victory in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division opener for both teams in front of a capacity crowd at Eaton Field.
EMCC (3-0, 1-0 North) scored 50 or more points for the third time this season. However, the much-needed separation came from the defense when it mattered most. ICC (1-2, 0-1) had six red-zone trips but it only had one touchdown and two field goals on those possessions.
"I don't think anybody is going to be excited about giving up 26 points," EMCC defensive coordinator Cliff Collins said. "Our defense showed they had a backbone. They showed they cared about what we were doing. On the plays inside the 10-yard line, we were great. It shows the mind-set you have to have. You can't give up on plays. Until the other team scores, they haven't. To hold them to two field goals there was huge.
"It shows the type of defensive unit we want to become."
EMCC collected five turnovers. The Lions now have 11 through three games.
Down 21-3, an interception by Cortez Davis set the Indians up on the Lions' 17-yard line. On first down, Clark Mills hit former Caledonia High School standout Jamel Thomas for a 16-yard pickup inside the 1-yard line The officials debated for some time before ruling no touchdown.
On first-and-goal at the 1, linebacker Fred Hervey burst through the line for a tackle for loss. A freshman from Charleston, Hervey again shared the tackle for loss on second down.
On third-and-goal from the 7, Hervey proved he couldn't be beaten in the air with an acrobatic interception just inside the end zone.
"If the other team being right in front of your end zone doesn't fire you up, nothing will," Hervey said. "As a defense, your job is to get the stop no matter what else has happened on the drive.
"We have a lot of things to clean up. However, we proved in the trenches we weren't going to get beat. That's a big statement."
Hervey was everywhere with 12 tackles (two-and-a-half for loss), an interception, and a fumble recovery. Akins had his second interception late in the game after dropping one earlier in the game.
"I had to make up for that," Akins said. "Should have had the first one. That was terrible. As far as the defense goes, we are getting good at the turnovers. It's just a matter of reading the quarterback's eyes and reacting. So far, so good."
For ICC, the first field goal by Caledonia's Caleb Comer (19 yards) came after a 62-yard drive stalled at the EMCC 1. This time, West Point's Everitt Cunningham, Eriq Kitchen, and Hervey had the big stops along the line. The Indians couldn't score on two tries from inside the 2-yard line.
The second field goal by Comer (27 yards) brought the home team within 21-6 after three-straight incomplete passes followed a first-and-goal from the EMCC 10.
After ICC made it a one-score game, EMCC scored on the final two possessions of the first half (for a 35-13 halftime lead) and the first possession of the second half.
"We got some things going there to end the half," said EMCC sophomore quarterback Vijay Miller, who had six touchdowns (three rush, three pass). "We started strong and then had a lull. Championship teams can't have lulls.
"Fortunately, when we stopped scoring, the defense had our back. When the game was on the line, they showed out."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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