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EMCC Lions National Champs!

YUMA, Ariz. – East Mississippi Community College standout quarterback Bo Wallace capped his record-setting freshman season with another seven-touchdown effort through the air to lead the second-ranked Lions to their first-ever national title with a 55-47 victory over top-ranked Arizona Western College Saturday afternoon in the 2011 NJCAA Football Championship Game. The AWC-hosted El Toro Bowl – presented by Time Warner Cable – was played under unusually cold and windy weather conditions at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Having already previously established new single-season NJCAA standards for most passing yards and most yards of total offense, Wallace tossed seven touchdown passes in a game for the fourth time this season to run his NJCAA-record setting total to 53 on the year. Completing 31-of-43 aerials for 460 yards and the seven scores, the former Arkansas State University redshirt by way of Pulaski, Tenn., entered the national title game needing five touchdown passes to break the previous NJCAA single-season mark of 50 set by Tony DeLeon of Vermilion CC (Minn.) in 1992.
Wallace got EMCC’s high-powered offense rolling on the team’s opening possession by capping a seven-play, 77-yard drive with a 52-yard scoring strike to sophomore receiver Rodney Davis with 11:50 left in the first period. The point-after-touchdown attempt was missed. After trading punts, the Lions took advantage of an AWC fumble and benefitted from two of the Matadors’ 11 first-half penalties on the ensuing 65-yard drive to move on top, 13-0, as Wallace found sophomore receiver Lacoltan Bester in the left corner of the end zone at the 4:53 mark.
Aided by Jeremy Cannon’s third pass interception of the season coming between scores, EMCC’s quick-strike offense rang up two more touchdowns less than a minute apart to bolt to an early 27-0 lead by the 12:39 mark of the second quarter. Following Bester’s NJCAA-leading 17th touchdown reception of the season and second of the game – a 23-yarder over the middle from Wallace – Cannon’s pick set up a 29-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to Jeremy Reed.
Damien Williams, the NJCAA’s leading rusher, put the Matadors on the scoreboard with a 53-yard touchdown run with 5:49 left in the second quarter. The Lions answered immediately by moving 87 yards on just four plays, as a 59-yard pass play from Wallace to Davis set up a 24-yard scoring connection between the same tandem two plays later to make it a 34-7 contest with 4:11 left until intermission. To their credit, the Matadors responded with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Coffman to Josh Ford within the final minute of the half to cut the AWC deficit to 34-13 heading into halftime.
Having averaged 97 points per game between them heading into the title tilt, EMCC and AWC evenly split a 42-point third quarter with three touchdowns apiece. The two combatants combined for three touchdowns in less than four minutes to begin the period. The Lions kicked off the high-scoring quarter by stretching the margin to 41-13 on Wallace’s 29-yard scoring aerial to JJ Harbin three minutes into the second stanza.
The high-scoring Matadors cut into the deficit in a big way with two scores within 70 seconds of each other. After Coffman was on the receiving end of a 22-yard, double-reverse scoring pass play from Ford, AWC’s Quyuan Mattox picked off Wallace’s lone interception thrown of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Williams broke loose and galloped 68 yards for his 26th rushing touchdown of the campaign. The successful PAT trimmed AWC’s deficit to 41-27 with 8:14 remaining in the third quarter.
After the teams exchanged three-and-out possessions and with the visitors pinned on their own 6-yard line facing a third-and-nine hole, the Lions momentarily silenced the sold-out crowd of 5,500 fans when freshman running back Rodriguez Moore took Wallace’s screen pass 94 yards down the left sideline and into the end zone. Showing tremendous resilience, the Matadors bounced right back when Andre O’Neil returned the ensuing kickoff to EMCC’s 20-yard line. On the next play, Coffman hit D.J. Johnson with a 20-yard scoring strike to make it a 48-34 contest with 4:11 left in the period.
The eventful third quarter came to a close with one more score, as EMCC freshman Antoinne Adkins reached pay dirt on a 3-yard keeper from the wildcat formation. The Lions’ final score of the contest also marked their first points via the ground on the day.
Arizona Western opened fourth-quarter play by once again making it a two-score contest when the Matadors capped a nine-play, 59-yard drive with Coffman’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Williams. The PAT attempt was blocked to keep the score at 55-40 with 11:52 remaining in the championship contest. Coffman and Williams would hook up again late in the contest on another 15-yard scoring pass play at the 3:39 mark, but that was as close as the Matadors would get.
Wallace, this year’s NJCAA Region 23 Offensive MVP and a leading contender for this year’s NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year award, was selected as EMCC’s Offensive MVP for his El Toro Bowl performance. Sophomore defensive end Denico Autry, of Albemarle, N.C., earned the Lions’ Defensive MVP honor. AWC’s game MVP honors went to Williams and middle linebacker Steffon Martin. Williams rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, though 121 of those rushing yards came on his pair of scoring runs.
Bester and Harbin paced the Lions’ receiving corps in the contest with eight (57 yards) and seven (67 yards) catches, respectively. Bester, a former Kemper County standout, went over the 1,000-yard mark for receiving yards this season in addition to grabbing the national lead with his 17th touchdown reception of the year. Davis, of Millbrook, Ala., collected a team-most 162 receiving yards with his six catches against AWC.
Moore, of Bastrop, La., approached the century mark in both rushing and receiving yardage during the national title game. The rookie back picked up 98 yards on the ground in 19 carries while adding another 95 receiving yards on four grabs out of the backfield.
As a team, the Lions topped the 50-point mark for the sixth time this season – all coming in their last eight outings. Heading into the contest, Arizona Western’s vaunted defensive unit had allowed a total of just 122 points in 11 prior games collectively. Looking for their first national title since 1972, the Matadors closed out their school-first, 11-win season at 11-1 with the setback.
Capping their first-ever perfect season with a school-record 12th victory in the NJCAA Football Championship Game, head coach Buddy Stephens’ EMCC Lions became the fifth school from the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) to claim the national football title. Stephens and current EMCC associate head coach/defensive coordinator William Jones were both assistant coaches on Pearl River Community College’s 2004 NJCAA National Championship team. EMCC also joins the ranks of Mississippi Gulf Coast CC (2007, 1984 and 1971), Northwest Mississippi (1992 and 1982) and Mississippi Delta (1993) as MACJC programs to win the coveted national title.

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