East Mississippi Community College sophomore linebacker Untareo Johnson makes a stop in a victory against Coahoma C.C. in a 47-0 victory on Oct. 18 in Scooba. Photo by: JUCOWeekly.org
November 9, 2018 10:08:43 AM
When the season started, East Mississippi Community College sophomore defensive back JaQuez Akins knew he would be on a better defense.
Still, the amount of improvement might be a little overwhelming for the veteran Lions.
"This team has won championships with a great defense," Akins said. "We were a little disappointed last season, even though we won the (national) championship. The defense was not up to the standard for around here. We had a hard time stopping elite players on a consistent basis. This year has been our chance to make up for that."
EMCC has held five opponents to seven points or less, and four to less than 100 yards of offense. Another defensive masterpiece will be the expectation when No. 1 EMCC (10-0) faces No. 4 Jones College (9-1) for the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) State championship at 2 p.m. Saturday in Ellisville.
"During the offseason we made an effort to make some improvements on the defensive side of the ball," EMCC coach Buddy Stephens said. "We allocate some more out-of-state funds on that side of the ball. We had the coaches in place, just needed some more depth and needed to perform better."
This season, EMCC has accomplished both of those goals.
The 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship squad allowed 25.1 points per game. This season, EMCC has allowed a NJCAA-best 11.1 ppg.
"It's all about a mind-set," EMCC second-year defensive coordinator Cliff Collins said. "I think we had lost that edge with recent teams. You could tell this group of sophomores were built a little different. We have had those game-changing, impact players. This year, we just have more of them."
Collins was an assistant on EMCC squads that won the national title in 2013 and 2014. Those teams were built at the line with a dominating front four.
This year's unit has taken on a similar makeup. The Lions lead the nation with 43 sacks and are among the national leaders in tackles for loss with 106. Former West Point High School standout Everitt Cunningham leads the sack parade with 13. He also has a team-high 19 tackles for loss.
"Playing defense has been a lot of fun with this team this year," Cunningham said. "It feels like we have more speed at every position. There comes a time in just about every game where the other team starts to panic and they have to do things on offense they aren't used to doing."
The Lions also have forced 25 turnovers. By comparison, the Lions had 33 sacks, 82 tackles for loss and forced 20 turnovers (in 12 games) last season.
Collins is known for a long list of team goals for each game.
"Sometimes, a few of those things are over the top," Cunningham said. "We always start out with under 100 yards and always play for the shutout. After that, there are a lot of other marks we try to hit."
This week's goal list will include the program's seventh state championship in 11 seasons. A year ago, EMCC beat Northwest Mississippi C.C. 67-66 in double overtime to win the title.
"We don't want to experience that again this year," Akins said. "At least not the during-the-game feeling. The after-the-game feeling, yes we want that again."
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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