SCOOBA – In a game where an offensive seminar was put on, it was three big defensive plays that made the difference.
No. 3 (National Junior College Athletic Association) East Mississippi Community College's Shaquile Fluker had an interception and Jason Yarber had two interceptions at a critical moment as the Lions went on to a 56-49 win over No. 5 Northwest Community College Thursday night at Sullivan-Windham Field.
The Lions (8-0) claimed the No. 1 seed in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges North Division and extended their winning streak to 20 games.
East Mississippi has won the North Division four out of the last five years. Northwest (6-1) won it in 2010.
"I'm glad we got to play a team of this caliber because it shows where we have to pick some things up," EMCC head coach Buddy Stephens said.
The Rangers saw their winning streak ended at 10 games.
Entering the second quarter, the Lions trailed 21-14. Fluker picked off a Domonique Harris pass and put EMCC in business in Ranger territory.
"It changed the game big time," Stephens said. "Our guys really decided to start playing right there."
Starkville native and EMCC quarterback Quez Johnson rushed it in from the 1-yard line with 12:48 to go in the second quarter to tie it at 21-21.
EMCC scored on its final two possessions of the first half to take a 35-28 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Rangers came out in the second half and scored on their first possession to tie the game at 35-35.
Johnson threw an interception to Aaron Thompson, who returned it 80 yards for a touchdown and the Rangers took back over the lead at 42-35.
Late in the third quarter, NWCC was trying to extend its lead, but an interception by Yarbor gave the Lions new life.
On the ensuing drive, Johnson found the end zone for the third time with his feet. This time from 14 yards out to tie it at 42-42 with 22 seconds to go in the third quarter.
After a Ranger punt, the Lions marched 84 yards and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run by Xavier Hogan to take a 49-42 lead with 9:07 to go in the game.
On NWCC's next drive, it looked like it was going to tie the game up. Yarbor ended that threat with another interception. One play later, Johnson found Martay Mattox for a 23-yard strike with 6:53 to go in the game to make it 56-42.
After the Rangers took over, Justin Cox had an interception of his own to put the final nail in the Ranger's coffin.
Johnson ended the night 32-of-45 passing with 404 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 102 yards rushing on 17 carries for three scores.
"I just try to stay level-headed," Johnson said. "No matter what happened, I tried to keep my head in the game and kept working hard."
The Lions finished the game with 700 yards of total offense and 296 rushing yards.
The Rangers had 602 yards of total offense themselves.
EMCC travels to Itawamba next Saturday for the final regular season game.