East Mississippi Ready to Roll

SCOOBA - Head coach Buddy Stephens' seventh-ranked East Mississippi Lions open their 2010 football campaign Thursday at No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast in a rematch of last year's memorable MACJC state championship shootout won by EMCC, 75-71, in Scooba. Thursday's season opener is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff at A.L. May Memorial Stadium on MGCCC's Perkinston campus.

Thursday's EMCC-Gulf Coast season opener will be broadcast live by WFCA-FM radio (107.9) with Jason Crowder set to describe the play-by-play action and Glen Beard slated to provide the color analysis.  The live broadcast can also be heard online via EMCC's athletics website – http://athletics.eastms.edu – or by logging onto www.wfca108.com.

In addition, Thursday's state championship rematch can be seen live via streaming audio and video at www.mgcccbulldogs.com. Game highlights and post-game interviews will also be available at www.jucoweekly.com as part of the website's 2010 MACJC Game of the Week schedule.

On Nov. 7 a year ago at Sullivan-Windham Field on the Scooba campus, EMCC and Gulf Coast combined for 146 points and more than 1,200 yards of total offense in a regulation contest that was ultimately preserved by Anthony Hines' game-saving interception in the end zone on a third-and-one attempt from the 22-yard line.  Last year's school-first state championship victory over MGCCC helped avenge East Mississippi's 43-26 home setback to the Bulldogs during the 2009 regular season (Sept. 17).

Having compiled a 19-3 overall record and consecutive undefeated North Division marks the past two seasons under Stephens' guidance, the Lions of East Mississippi enter the 2010 campaign ranked No. 7 in the NJCAA Football Preseason Top 25.  A year ago, EMCC posted a school-best 11-1 campaign that was capped by a 27-24 Mississippi Bowl victory over Arizona Western – this year's No. 2 preseason-ranked team in the NJCAA Top 25.  A season-ending, eight-game winning streak last year lifted the 2009 EMCC Lions to a program-best No. 4 final ranking.    

With NJCAA All-American quarterback Randall Mackey having taken his talents to Ole Miss, the 2010 East Mississippi offensive squad returns but two starters from a group that ranked fourth nationally in team total offense and second in passing offense a year ago.  Starkville sophomore Brad Henderson and freshman Termarcus Conner of Noxubee County's 2008 MHSAA Class 4A state championship team appear to be the preseason front-runners for EMCC's starting quarterback position.  Sophomore Floyd Graves, a former state high school rushing champion at Newton County, looks to be Pat Shed's successor at the running back position, while fellow sophomore Marcus McQuarley of Meridian High School's 2008 Class 5A state championship club is the lone EMCC pass-catcher returning from last year's talented receiving corps.

Defensively, a veteran East Mississippi stops unit figures to be headlined by preseason all-star candidate Quinton Dial, a University of Alabama commit from Clay-Chalkville (Ala.) High School.  The 6-foot-6, 325-pound defensive lineman appears ready to challenge for national honors as one of the top defensive performers in the Mississippi junior college ranks.  Sophomore Jimmy Roby, another of EMCC's standouts from Noxubee County's 2008 state title contingent, seems primed to lead East Mississippi's linebacking corps this fall.  Having ranked among the national team leaders with 33 total interceptions over the past two seasons combined, the Lions' defensive secondary looks to be spearheaded by sophomores Fred Tate of Noxubee County and Columbus' Johnny Cockrell.  

Guided by seventh-year head coach Steve Campbell, the Bulldogs of Mississippi Gulf Coast stand fifth in the NJCAA Football Preseason Top 25 after posting a 9-3 campaign and claiming a third straight MACJC South Division crown last season.  Back-to-back state champions in 2007 and 2008, MGCCC fell to Navarro (Texas) College in last year's Heart of Texas Bowl.          

East Mississippi has prevailed in 11 of the last 12 meetings with Mississippi Gulf Coast dating back to the 1987 football campaign.  Two years ago (Sept. 18, 2008) in the first head-to-head gridiron encounter between the two teams since 2003, then-freshman quarterback Randall Mackey engineered two unanswered fourth-quarter drives to lift the visiting Lions to a come-from-behind 27-23 upset road victory over the then-second ranked and defending state champion Bulldogs in Perkinston. 

Following EMCC's 2010 season opener this week at Mississippi Gulf Coast, the Lions will usher in their home football slate by entertaining Hinds on Thursday, Sept. 9.  Kickoff at Sullivan-Windham Field is set for 7 p.m. on the Scooba campus.  EMCC will stay at home to begin MACJC North Division competition by welcoming Northwest Mississippi on Thursday, Sept. 16.  Game time will again commence at 7 p.m. at EMCC's Sullivan-Windham Field.

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