Itawamba-Gulf Coast showdown gets more interesting with playoff rematch looming
Itawamba coach Sean Cannon had heard rumors Thursday night that his Indians football team would be awarded a playoff spot due to a fight between No. 3 East Mississippi and Mississippi Delta.
But at that point, what he was hearing was just that -- rumors.
Friday morning it became official. The MACJC North's top-seeded Lions were expelled from the state's post-season tournament, which meant his Indians were awarded the No. 2 seed and a first-round matchup at No. 11 Gulf Coast.
How Cannon found out the Indians would play the Bulldogs instead of Northwest was a little unorthodox, however.
"I don't ever listen to rumors until I have a full assurance. Well, I got a call from a guy down in Wiggins (with the inn) saying 'coach, Northwest cancelled their rooms next week. I hope you're wanting them,'" Cannon said Friday afternoon as he loaded his team onto busses for Saturday's regular season finale against Gulf Coast. "I called my AD and said, I just got a call from a guy wanting to know if we want hotel rooms What's going on?
"They had to let East Mississippi know before the official announcement so that's how I found out."
Playing the same team in back-to-back weeks isn't ideal, neither is back-dooring your way into a post-season berth, but the Indians are planning to make the best of the situation. If anything, the consecutive showdowns add a level of intrigue to how the games will be played.
"Now we'll know how they're going to try and play us and they'll know how we're going to play them," Cannon said. "Then it's kind of a chess game after that."
Cannon said when his buddies were blowing up his phone Thursday night after news of EMCC's fight spread, he got to thinking, just how exactly do you play the Bulldogs' 3:30 p.m. homecoming game on Saturday?
"Do you show everything you were going to try and do to win this one, or do you become more vanilla?" he said. "I think you got to give your kids a chance to know they can come back and do it again. You don't want them to get down and wonder if they can (win after playing vanilla.)
"I think it's really a fine line as far as how you go in as coaches."
East Mississippi had a 48-0 lead over Mississippi Delta in the final minute of the first half when both benches cleared and a fight ensued.
An East Mississippi receiver was tackled out of bounds late in the first half. The player was shoved back to the ground while out of bounds, which instigated the fight.
Several Mississippi Delta players joined the altercation and EMCC's bench emptied as well.
Police eventually took the field and with the help of coaches and administrators regained control. Following a meeting officials called the game.
"Based upon the altercation last night between East MS CC and MS Delta CC," MACJC commissioner Jim Southward said in a release Friday. "East MS CC will not be eligible to participate in the MACJC football playoffs. Both schools will have to adhere to the NJCAA ejection policy which states 'mandatory ejection and removal from the venue for any bench personnel other than the head coach who leaves the bench or designated warm up area when a fight may break out or has broken out. A two contest suspension to be served during the next two regularly scheduled or postseason contests. A suspension of a coach or player at the end of a season of play shall carry over to the next season.'"
After the fight, EMCC coach Buddy Stephens told Commercial Dispatch reporter Scott Walters: "I put this on us for our lack of discipline, the referees for not controlling the game and (Delta) for (its) lack of discipline. ... We told our guys how this game would be and how (Delta) would play. If they don't listen, I simply can not help them."
In a statement, EMCC president Dr. Thomas M. Huebner Jr. said the school is planning to appeal the decision.
EMCC had won five straight MACJC North titles.
The winner of the Gulf Coast-Itawmaba playoff showdown will face the winner of Northwest and East Central on Nov. 7.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.