October 10, 2018 10:47:08 AM
East Mississippi Community College sophomore defensive back JaQuez Akins wasn't planning on being a focal point of his team's offense this season.
However, Akins is still proud of the 12 points he has contributed for the top-ranked Lions.
"There is nothing like a pick six," said Akins, who played at Starkville High School. "It gets everybody on the sidelines excited. The crowd gets going. It's a momentum-changing play. As a defense, we pride ourselves on making momentum-changing plays."
Akins and his teammates will look to make more of them at 2 p.m. Saturday when No. 1 EMCC (6-0, 3-0) takes on Holmes C.C. (3-3, 1-2) in a Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division game at Sullivan-Windham Field in Scooba.
EMCC will return to the field after its most impressive defensive performance in years. EMCC held then-No. 2 Northwest Mississippi C.C. to 98 yards in a 34-6 win Thursday in Senatobia.
"Our goal was total domination," Akins said. "We didn't want to give them inch. The defense was embarrassed the last time we played here. This isn't mean to be disrespectful to Northwest because they are really good, but we wanted this one badly. This was a championship-type effort."
When Cliff Collins returned to EMCC as defensive coordinator prior to the 2017 season, his goal was to beef up the defensive line. A talented front four helped EMCC win National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championships in 2013 and 2014. Last season, that line struggled in Northwest Mississippi C.C.'s 61-38 regular-season win. It didn't fare much better in the rematch, a 67-66, double-overtime victory in the MACJC State championship game.
On Thursday night, the defensive line responded with a season-high 10 sacks. Akins provided the exclamation point with a 79-yard interception return in the fourth quarter. It was his third interception and second touchdown return. He also has 22 tackles.
"The defense didn't really live up to the championship standard a season ago," Akins said. "For the sophomores, it was important to come out and set a standard for how we are going to play. Even when you win the (national) championship, there are still things you can do better. We always have a great offense here. We were fortunate last year, in that they could bail us out when we weren't at our best.
"This year is different. Guys are flying to the ball and making plays. It has been fun."
Collins knew Akins would be a pivotal piece of the defense.
"Quez always plays with a high motor," Collins said. "He is an energy guy. You need a lot of those. When a player gets down, someone else has to be there to pick them up. That is what energy guys can do for a defense. They can get you going in practice. They can get you going in a game."
EMCC forced four turnovers against Northwest Mississippi C.C. to give it 17 on the season.
"Again, those are momentum-changing plays," Akins said. "We live for those moments."
EMCC also stood tall a week earlier in a 24-21 victory against then-No. 20 East Central C.C. The rare close call for the Lions made them thankful and hungry.
"You have to play for 60 minutes," Akins said. "That was the biggest take-away from the East Central win. We don't have to play hard for 60 minutes. Against East Central, we didn't do that when we should have, so against Northwest we were determined to play hard for 60 minutes and then whatever happened happened."
n In related news, EMCC sophomore defensive end Everitt Cunningham was named Tuesday the MACJC Defensive Player of the Week. Cunningham, a West Point High School product, helped set the tone against then-No. 2 Northwest Mississippi C.C. with two quarterback sacks as the Lions built a 13-0 lead midway through the first quarter. He finished with three sacks. He also forced a fumble and broke up a pass.
n Itawamba Community College freshman quarterback Clark Mills was named the MACJC Offensive Player of the Week.
Mills, who is from Ecru, led ICC to a 37-34 road victory against then-No. 18 Holmes C.C. last week by going 29-for-41 and throwing for a career-high 427 yards. He also threw for a career-high three touchdowns and picked up a career-best 30 rushing yards on four carries.
n In other junior college news, ICC freshman forward Grace Joyce was named Tuesday the MACJC Women's Soccer Player of the Week.
Joyce, who is from Oxford, scored four goals and added an assist to help the Indians (8-3-1, 4-2-0 MACJC North) go 2-1 on the week and clinch a playoff berth.
Joyce has 10 goals and two assists on the season for ICC, which will face Northwest Mississippi C.C. at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Senatobia.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
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