Heading into the MACJC season, Thursday night’s showdown between East Mississippi and Mississippi Gulf Coast looked like it could potentially be an early-season meeting of top 5 teams.
And the clash in Perkinston still could be an early playoff precursor.
However, instead of a Top 5 meeting, No. 12 EMCC and No. 17 MGCCC enter Thursday’s games looking to bounce back from respective losses to Jones County and Itawamba.
“We got a lot of work to do. We have some potential, but obviously we have to eliminate mistakes,” MGCCC coach Chad Huff said, referring to the Bulldogs’ 23-12 loss at ICC. “First game of the year, the team that makes the fewest mistakes is going to have a chance to win the football game. We had a freshman quarterback and freshmen playing in certain situations. You can’t go down as quickly as we did on the road. All those unforced errors will cost you when you’re playing a good football team.”
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New quarterback Kalen Whitlow completed 17 of 28 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown and rushed 12 more times for 26 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought he did some good things. Less eight drops he’d been 25-for-28, which would have been really good. We have to catch the football,” Huff said. “He made some mental mistakes as well, but for his first football game that’s going to happen. We need some guys to step up around him. That will help. I thought he did some good things.”
The Lions (0-1) Huff saw on game film won’t closely resemble the ones who ride into Perkinston on Thursday. That’s because East Mississippi only dressed 32 players after a number of players were suspended due to a benches-clearing brawl at Mississippi Delta at the end of the 2015 season.
“I think it allows us to make sure we’re ready for whatever. It allows us to focus more on ourselves,” Huff said. “We have the scheme and know what they’re going to do on both sides of the football. Obviously the guys will be a little different here and there, but at the end of the day we have to play Gulf Coast football. We have to do what we do best.”
In the 27-25 loss to JCJC, Itawamba Agricultural High School product Vijay Miller started at quarterback in place of former Florida State QB De’Andre Johnson. Miller threw for 248 yards and three touchdowns. He had a number of playmakers, including receivers Calvin Keys Jr., Daniel Crowell Jr. and Raphael Leonard, a Florida Atlantic transfer, at receiver. The Lions also feature freshman running back Tyrell Price in addition to dangerous sophomore Isaiah Wright.
Defensively, the Lions are loaded with Division 1 transfers, including Georgia lineman Chauncey Rivers, Texas Tech linebacker and reigning MACJC Defensive Player of the Week Dakota Allen, Louisville lineman Tim Bonner, Michigan safety Brian Cole II and Penn State lineman Kam Carter.
247Sports’ composite 2017 Top 100 rankings include 10 Lions, with Rivers (No. 6), Johnson (10), Allen (17), defensive end Jay Johnson (24), lineman Tyre Phillips (27), defensive end Rasool Clemons (43), Wright (52), cornerback T.J. Jallow (53), receiver Brooks Shannon (68) and Bonner (75) all ranked. Johnson, Clemons and Bonner are all listed as Ole Miss commits, with Phillips pledged to Mississippi State and Jallow to Louisville. Clemons, however, is not on East Mississippi’s active roster for the 2016 season. Even without the big lineman, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them.
The Lions’ lineup also includes Vancleave kicker Taylor Crabtree and Pascagoula lineman Hunter Godfrey.
“They have some good players. It’s going to take everything we’ve got,” Huff said. “We’re going to have to be physical, play hard and give great effort.”
‘Last Chance U’
EMCC made plenty of headlines this summer when Netflix released its “Last Chance U” documentary, which featured the 2015 Lions.
Huff said he hasn’t mentioned the six-episode series to his players.
“I don’t get into all that,” Huff said. “I’m sure the kids have watched it, but I haven’t even brought it up.”
Gulf Coast leads the all-time series 31-26-4, but the Lions are on a four-game winning streak, last beating the Bulldogs 42-21 in 2014.
Thursday will be Mississippi State University Night in Perkinston, with administrators and recruiters from MSU in attendance.
East Mississippi at Gulf Coast
Where: A.L. May Memorial Stadium
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Radio: 103.1 FM