No. 12 East Mississippi Community College overcame early turnovers Thursday. No. 17 Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. did not.
The first quarter of Thursday's highly anticipated MACJC showdown at A.L. May Memorial Stadium included a fumble, three interceptions and a blocked punt.
Even with the early miscues by both sides, the Bulldogs briefly held a 7-0 lead.
The Lions responded, however, shutting out the home team the rest of the way to earn a 45-7 road victory.
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"I thought we played hard early. It definitely looked like we had played better. Down 14-7 at the half and then we start off the second half with another turnover," MGCCC coach Chad Huff said. "You can't do those things. You can't do them.
"We made too many mistakes."
Former Florida State quarterback De'Andre Johnson sparked EMCC's offense before being pulled late for ViJay Miller.
Johnson connected with former Florida Atlantic receiver Raphael Leonard early in the second quarter for a 27-yard touchdown strike.
The Lions took a 14-7 lead into half time after Johnson connected with Brooks Shannon for a 22-yard touchdown with 2:23 remaining in the half.
Johnson pushed the Lions' lead to 21-7 early in the third quarter. After MGCCC's Alex Barrow was stripped deep in Bulldogs territory, Johnson flicked a short pass to running back Isaiah Wright on his left. Wright dodged several Bulldogs and eventually dove head first into the end zone for an acrobatic 13-yard score and a 21-7 lead.
"(Johnson is a) very talented guy," MGCCC defensive coordinator Steve Davis said. "We had the chance to hem him up a few times and took the wrong route and he made a play."
Running back Jaquez Horsley scored on a 5-yard run with 10:42 remaining in the third quarter, giving EMCC a 28-7 lead.
Vancleave product Taylor Crabtree converted a 21-yard field goal attempt with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, pushing EMCC's lead to 31-7.
Miller made the most of his handful of late possessions. The Itawamba AHS product threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ja'Moz Mark mid-way through the fourth quarter and then scrambled for a 6-yard score with 4:32 remaining.
As the Lions' offense began clicking, the Bulldogs' faltered. In the second half, the Bulldogs picked up just two three downs – with one coming on a targeting call against EMCC. Former Resurrection quarterback Larry Sisson picked up the second on a 20-yard scamper after he replaced starter Kalen Whitlow due to injury. Long Beach's Mario Clark picked up the third on a short run just before time expired.
"We have to get back offensively, keep working and keep getting better," Huff said. "We need some guys to make some plays."
Whitlow opened the scoring for Gulf Coast. After Lester Wells blocked an East Mississippi punt deep in the Lions' territory, the former Western Carolina quarterback powered his way through the line for a 1-yard score.
He finished the game 9 of 18 passing for 73 yards and two interceptions before being injured in the fourth quarter.
Things won't get any easier for MGCCC with Copiah-Lincoln visiting next Thursday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
"The message is, just like in life, you're going to get hit with adversity,” Huff said. “How are you going to respond? In times like this, your character shows and defines what you're really made of. We can either learn from it and get better from it, or the ones who don't are just average folks. This football team has some special people and kids who I think will respond. I guess we'll see.”