By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
Typically, it is the East Mississippi Community College offense that propels the No.5 rated Lions to wins. On Saturday though, the Lions high-powered offense went missing for much of the game, and it was the defense that came up big, shutting out Holmes Community College and propelling EMCC to a 35-0 win at Sullivan-Windham Field.
“I don't know what anybody did with our offense, but I'm glad they gave it back to us in the fourth quarter,” EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said. “Offensively we played like we have been practicing. It has shown the last two weeks, and we will get it fixed.”
For the first time since his first game at EMCC, Stephens and his team headed into the half with nothing to show on the scoreboard, as the Lions headed into the break tied with Holmes 0-0.
Despite the the slow start to the game, Stephens' message to his team was simple at halftime — keep playing hard until you see no time left in the fourth quarter.
The defense would do just that, getting to Holmes quarterback Dennis Robertson and forcing him to make hurried decisions in the pocket.
After backing the Bulldogs up deep in their own territory late in the third quarter, lighting finally struck for the Lions. A Bulldog punt gave EMCC the ball at its own 47-yard line, when quarterback Quez Johnson finally found his form, hitting receiver Billy Shed on a 46-yard strike to put the Lions on the 7-yard line poised to score.
After failing to punch it in on three-straight plays EMCC was faced on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line before running back Rodriguez Moore finally busted over the top of the pile to put the Lions up 7-0.
From then on, EMCC came alive, spurred on again by the play of its defense.
On the ensuing possession, former Meridian High School safety Shaquille Fluker picked off a Robertson pass. Fluker's interception was one of three on the day for EMCC, as the Lion secondary finally appeared to shake off its habit of dropped interceptions this season.
“All these picks we had came straight to us because we played our position so well,” Fluker said. “We have been working on the JUGS machine after practice, and they were coming mighty fast. We told coach to make them wobbly because that's the way they will be during the game.”
The score stayed 7-0 heading into the fourth quarter. However, Stephens and the Lions finally found their powerful offense.
With 9:57 left in the game, Johnson found wide receiver Nick Brassell for a 32-yard touchdown to increase the score to 14-0. The talented quarterback was just getting started, as Stephens said Johnson, who threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns to one interception on 27 of 55 passing, was playing inspired following a hit to the head in the third quarter.
“I think he played pissed off,” Stephens said. “He got hit in the head and I think that really got him going.”
Justin Cox intercepted the first pass of the following possession, setting the Lions up on the Holmes 32-yard line. It wouldn't take long for Johnson to strike again, as the quarterback found Moore for a touchdown to put the game out of reach 21-0. Moore, a sophomore, rushed for 90 yards on 29 carries.
Stephens said he was happy with the win, but will need more discipline from his team if they are going to continue their success this season and repeat as national champions
“We as coaches have to quit having to coach effort,” he said. “The players have to take on some of that responsibility themselves.
“Overall, we won the game, the tractor ain't broke. We just have improve a little bit, and if we can do that, we will be fine.”