Friday, September 28, 2018

Last-Second Field Goal Halts East Central’s Upset Bid Against Top-Ranked East Mississippi

 Ronnie Thomas
It took a last-second field goal for the No. 1 football team in the nation to escape Decatur with a win. The East Mississippi Lions needed a 19-yard field goal from freshman Josh Smith with four seconds left on the clock to pull off a 24-21 win over the upset-minded East Central Community College Warriors Thursday, Sept. 27, at Bailey Stadium on the ECCC campus. The loss dropped the No. 20 ranked Warriors to 3-2 on the season. East Central remains at the top of the MACJC South Division standings with a 2-0 record. Defending national champion East Mississippi improved to 5-0 overall. The overflow crowd that stayed until the final whistle got their money’s worth in the battle of Top 20 football teams.

Trailing 21-15 with 8:36 to play in the game and the ball on their own 20, the Warriors marched to the Lion 30 in a drive that featured runs of 10 and 20 yards by freshman Marquavious Qualls out of Lake. Facing fourth and one, East Central quarterback Mario Asagunla (Hillcrest Christian, Jackson) used his 6-6 body to sneak for the first down at the EMCC 28. On the next play, Asagunla hit a wide open freshman tight end Torin Hamilton (Starkville Academy) for the score to tie the game. EMCC blocked the point after attempt and the score was 21-21 with 3:51 to play.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Lions started the game-winning drive from their own 44-yard line. Facing fourth and goal from the Warrior two with just four seconds to play, Smith came on and kicked the game-winning field goal.

East Central took a 15-14 lead into the half on the Lions, who came into the contest averaging nearly 55 points per game. It was the first time East Mississippi had trailed at the half this season.

Warrior defenders sacked Lion quarterbacks six times in the first 30 minutes. The Warriors got on the scoreboard first in the first quarter with a 12-play, 74-yard drive that culminated with a three-yard pass from Asagunla to freshman tight end Ray Thomas from Senatobia. The point after kick by Sam Cox (Starkville Academy) was no good.

East Mississippi went in front 7-6 early in the second quarter on a 15-yard run from Deon McIntosh. The Lions blocked an East Central punt on the Warriors next drive and Josh Miller scooped the ball and raced 30 yards to the end zone to give East Mississippi a 14-6 lead. Cox would add a 25-yard field goal with 6:07 to play before half to pull the Warriors to within 14-9.

On its next possession, EMCC drove to the Warrior nine-yard line. Facing third and goal, East Central freshman linebacker Payton Rogers out of Forest hit Lion quarterback Messiah deWeaver forcing a fumble. Linebacker V.J. Swanier (Pass Christian) caught the ball in the air and weaved and fought 84-yards to the end zone for the score. The point after was no good again, but East Central would lead 15-14 going to the locker room.

East Mississippi’s other score in the game came on an 11-yard run by Keon Moore in the third quarter. The East Central defense held the Lions to just 383 total yards for the game, well below their 507-yard per game average. The Warrior offense played ball control to keep the EMCC offense on the sidelines as much as possible, holding a 31:28 to 28:32 advantage in time of possession.

James Smith III (Velma Jackson, Canton) led the Warriors in rushing with 82 yards on 27 attempts. Qualls came off the bench to rush for 62 yards on 10 carries. Asagunla’s two touchdown passes gives him 12 on the season. Steven Anderson (Purvis) punted three times for a 41.3 average, including a 60-yarder in the third quarter.

Defensively, East Central was led by Swanier’s 11 total tackles. Linebacker Kendrick Abney (Sylva Bay Academy, Bay Springs) had 10 stops. Freshman defensive lineman Ronnie Thomas out of Clinton and linebacker Tanner Bullock of Houston each tallied eight tackles, a sack, and two tackles for a loss. Defensive end Telayes Cole of Newton County also had a sack and two tackles for a loss.

The Warriors return to MACJC South Division play next Thursday when they host the Copiah-Lincoln Wolves at 6:30 p.m. in Bailey Stadium on the ECCC Campus in Decatur. It will be Homecoming 2018 on the East Central campus. A complete list of Homecoming activities can be found at

Co-Lin is 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the South Division after a 38-13 win at No. 14 Gulf Coast Sept. 27. The Wolves defeated East Central 27-24 last season on a last-minute field goal.

The game can be heard on WKOZ Cruisin 98.3 or via audio stream and live stream video at