East Mississippi had one goal coming into the 2011 season and that was to win a national title.
After securing their second MACJC state football championship in three seasons, the Lions will again do battle with perennial powerhouse Arizona Western College.
This time, there’s more on the line in a national championship and the school’s first undefeated season.
Saturday, the No. 2 Lions and No. 1 Matadors will face off in the inaugural El Toro Bowl at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Yuma, Ariz. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. MT (3:30 p.m. CT).
“It started a new beginning,” EMCC sophomore Jeremy Cannon said. “This is what we’ve been waiting on. This is what we’ve been working for since the summer. It’s like a payoff.”
Cannon, a former standout at West Point High School, is one of four Green Wave alumni, who have helped the Lions reach an 11-0 record and their second bowl bid in three years. A second-team all-division pick in the secondary, Cannon has two interceptions and is tied for the team lead with 11 pass breakups. He says the preparations are no different than any other football game, although a victory would rewrite the books in Scooba.
“It’s just another game we have to win,” he said.
Cannon is one of three former Green Wave in the secondary, including Justin Cox and Deismen Robinson. Cox, who initially signed with Mississippi State, made a huge statement in his first collegiate football game with three interceptions in the 34-30 season opening victory over Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The ex-QB turned safety leads the team with five picks this season.
“"The game is much faster," he said. That's pretty much the main difference. You gotta be a lot smarter too.”
EMCC defensive backs coach Clifton Collins said earlier this season that adjustment from QB safety hasn’t been a difficult because the two are very similar.
"It hasn't been real hard for him," Collins said. "Most of the time at quarterback he was looking at the whole defense. It's same thing when he's playing safety as he was at quarterback, he's just reading the defense now." The MACJC First Team selection, Cox has 56 tackles on the season while Cannon has 52.
Robinson has been primarily in a back-up role to Cannon with 15 tackles on the year, but has been an essential part of the special teams throughout the season.
As the leader of the secondary which is 21st in the nation in yards allowed with 187 per game and seventh in picks on the year at 17, Cannon has helped make the transition from high school to college a little easier, but says he’s not afraid to take any advice from his younger teammates.
While the defense has done its best to keep opponents off the field as quickly as possible, the offense has been lighting up the scoreboard since week one.
Averaging 553 yards of total offense on the season, the Lions have scored 50 or more points five times this season including a high of 63 against Northwest in week five. Quarterback Bo Wallace has been instrumental, averaging a NJCAA leading 380.5 yards in the air, but the ground game has also been putting up impressive numbers as well led by Rodriguez Moore who has nearly 1,200 yards on the year.
Lions offensive coordinator Marcus Wood says their success on the offensive side has been because they are so versatile.
“We have the ability to spread the ball around,” he said. “We have an unusual group of guys that are non-selfish as any I have been around. They really understand the game and play really well together. They have great attitudes about it and just want to be successful.”
Freshman running back Xavier Hogan, the only Green Wave on the other side of the football, has done his part behind Moore with over 200 yards rushing in 11 games this season and one touchdown. Hogan, Wood says has been big running up the middle and on pass protection.
Arguably his biggest game of the season came in the rematch with Gulf Coast in the state title game with 40-yards on four carries.
“He’s done a great job for us,” he said. “Whenever we called his number, he’s responded really well. He’s been a solid player for us the year.”
EMCC head football coach Buddy Stephens, who has 35-8 record in Scooba said Cannon, Cox, Robinson and Hogan have been a firm foundation of that they are building.
“The kids that come West Point, you know they’re going to be well coached, well disciplined, and you know they’ve been coached hard,” he said.View more articles in: