East Mississippi notches 56-35 win at Holmes

GOODMAN - The third-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College achieved school history Thursday night by closing out a first-ever undefeated regular season with a 56-35 road victory over Holmes in MACJC North Division football action at Ras Branch Field.

Set to make their fourth consecutive appearance in the MACJC state football playoffs, head coach Buddy Stephens' 9-0 EMCC Lions will open this year's state playoffs Saturday, Nov. 5 by playing host to the loser of Saturday's first-place South Division battle between Mississippi Gulf Coast and Hinds. Kickoff at EMCC's New Sullivan-Windham Field is slated for 2 p.m.    

In Thursday's regular-season finale at Holmes, the Lions and Bulldogs traded touchdown passes to account for the first-quarter scoring. Visiting EMCC needed just five plays to advance 64 yards in its opening possession to take a 7-0 lead on freshman quarterback Bo Wallace's 12-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Lacoltan Bester. Late in the period, Holmes' Dennis Robertson connected with Jonathon Rumph on a 23-yard scoring pass play to knot the score.

The two teams matched short touchdown runs in the second quarter – 2 yards by EMCC's Rodney Davis and 4 yards by Ladarius Redditt of Holmes – before Lion freshman running back Rodriguez Moore put the visitors on top 21-14 with a 60-yard touchdown scamper down the left sideline at the 7:25 mark.

The home-standing Bulldogs made a serious bid at creating a third deadlock toward the end of the first half of play. After coming up empty on a potential scoring drive with a missed 37-yard field-goal attempt by Mitchell Huff, Holmes' Cedrick Tillman picked off his first of two interceptions on the night to put the Bulldogs back in business. However, Holmes was stymied following a first-and-goal opportunity from the 7-yard line. On the last play of the half, Redditt was smacked behind the line of scrimmage by EMCC sophomore defensive tackle Damien Jacobs.

Holmes squandered another potential game-tying opportunity on its opening possession of the second half. An 11-play drive was halted inside the red zone when Redditt fumbled at the 15-yard line after making a reception. The Lions proceeded to methodically march 84 yards on 10 plays to double-up the Bulldogs, 28-14, on a 5-yard keeper by Wallace with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.

Aided by three personal foul penalties called on EMCC during the ensuing possession, the Bulldogs again cut the deficit to one score on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Robertson to Ledrick Patterson at the 4:44 mark.

As they've proven throughout the campaign, the Lions' quick-strike ability was very evident on their next series. After Moore picked up 24 total yards on four straight carries, Wallace found Davis down field for a 35-yard aerial connection with 3:11 left in the quarter. However, in the blink of an eye, EMCC's two-touchdown lead was cut in half when Tillman returned his second Wallace pick of the night 30 yards to the end zone on the first play of the final quarter to trim the advantage to 35-28.

Confident in their ability to put up points on the scoreboard, the Lions scored twice within a four-minute span to stretch their lead back to a three-touchdown cushion. A 9-yard, Wallace-to-Bester hook-up at the 12:29 mark was followed by an 18-yard scoring run by Wallace with 8:23 remaining in the contest.

The two teams traded scoring runs down the stretch to account for the final, 21-point margin. After Robertson plowed in from 4 yards out with 6:03 left, EMCC's Moore capped a 204-yard rushing effort (on 18 carries) with a 42-yard breakout run down the left sideline at the 3:37 mark. From Bastrop, La. , Moore topped the 100-yard mark on the ground for the third straight game and eclipsed his previous-best effort of 202 rushing yards coming against Hinds during the second week of the season.

Wallace, an All-America candidate, improved his NJCAA-leading touchdowns thrown total to 35 on the year on 23-of-32 passing for 404 passing yards. The former Arkansas State redshirt by way of Pulaski, Tenn. , accounted for two other scores via the run in addition to posting his fourth 400-yard passing performance of the season.

Bester, from Kemper County High School, hauled in a game-high eight passes for 110 yards, while raising his team-high touchdown reception total to 11 on the campaign. Davis, a Millbrook, Ala. , native, amassed 174 receiving yards on his six catches.

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