By Austin Bishop
Winston County Journal
There are two athletes with Winston County connections who are on the verge of becoming National Champions.
Wide receivers C.J. Bates and Brandon Bell hope to do their part to make that dream a reality on Sunday afternoon as they and their East Mississippi Community College teammates take on Georgia Military College for the NJCAA National Championship at Indians Stadium in Biloxi.
EMCC, which won the National Championship in 2011 by defeating Arizona Western, will be putting its 11-0 record and No. 2 ranking on the line against top-ranked Georgia Military College.
Bates, who played at Louisville High School, and Bell, whose grandparents Jerry and Ilene Estes live in Winston County, will both play key roles in EMCC’s high-powered offensive attack.
Bates lead the team in receiving with 48 catches for 785 yards and seven touchdowns, while Brandon Bell is third on the team with 35 receptions for 438 yards
“To be honest, it’s what we have talked about the whole time I’ve been here,” Bates said of winning the National Championship. “We have been playing well as a whole and we are just looking forward to the chance.”
Bates was a star receiver at Louisville High School, who found himself surrounded by other top-level athletes when he came to the EMCC campus two years ago.
“We have several good receivers,” he said. “It’s not just one guy. We have some experienced older guys and some good young guys. There is not just one guy to go too We all can make the plays.”
Bates actually signed with EMCC two years ago but was injured prior to the first game of the 2012 season. He decided to take a redshirt year and although he is listed on the roster as a freshman, he will be eligible to graduate in December.
“He has done a tremendous job since his injury,” EMCC offensive coordinator Marcus Wood said. “He was talented when he got here, and he has continued to work to get better. One thing he has is a tremendous ability to put things behind him. I think that is what helped him work through the injury.”
Wood said that at 6-foot-2, and 200 pounds that he is a true outside guy who also has the ability and moves to play on the inside as a receiver.
Bell played quarterback at Heritage Academy in Columbus, but was willing to make the move to wide receiver at EMCC.
“I learned a lot in my first year at Scooba,” the sophomore wide out said. “The first year was a really good learning experience and I just gained more confidence.”
Both Bates and Bell said their focus all year has been on winning the title.
“The coaches were telling us all summer that we have the chance to be the best team that’s ever played here and that’s something we have been working toward.”
Wood said Bell has become a prime target for quarterback Dontreal Pruitt, especially when he gets under pressure.
“He knows Brandon is going to catch it,” Wood said of Pruitt targeting Bell when the pressure is on. “He is a guy with tremendous hands. When he first got here there was an adjustment period, but he’s made it well.”
No. 2 EMCC Lions to meet No. 1 Georgia Military
SCOOBA – Football champions of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges and NJCAA Region 23 for the third time in five years, the second-ranked Lions of East Mississippi Community College will vie for their second NJCAA National Championship in three years when they battle top-ranked Georgia Military College this Sunday (Dec. 8) in Mississippi Bowl VI. Kickoff for the 2013 NJCAA National Championship Game is set for 2 p.m. at Biloxi Indian Stadium.
Tickets for the first-ever collegiate football national championship game at any level to be contested within the state of Mississippi can be purchased online by visiting www.mississippibowl.com or by contacting the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Foundation Office at (601) 528-8900 or (601) 928-6344.
This year’s NJCAA National Championship Football Game, featuring the NJCAA’s only two remaining unbeaten (11-0) teams in No. 2 EMCC and top-ranked GMC, will be video-streamed live at http://www.njcaatv.com/bowlgames/. The live video-stream broadcast will also be available online at www.mississippibowl.com.
In addition, the national championship match-up, pitting the 2011 NJCAA Champion EMCC Lions and the 2001 NJCAA Champion GMC Bulldogs, will be broadcast live on WFCA FM 108, out of French Camp, with Jason Crowder and Glen Beard describing the play-by-play action, and John Lyle Briggs serving as the Lions’ sideline reporter. The game’s radio broadcast will also be carried live by Meridian’s WKZB FM 95.1.
Owning a six-year composite record of 55-10 (.846) under the guidance of head football coach Buddy Stephens, the 11-0 EMCC Lions captured their third MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 football championship in three years by claiming a 61-24 victory over then-No. 4 Jones County Junior College in this year’s state title game played Nov. 9 on EMCC’s Scooba campus. The week prior on Nov. 2, the Lions bested then-No. 5 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, 45-28, in the state semifinals also contested in Scooba. With a 33-3 collective division mark under Stephens’ direction, this year’s EMCC squad also claimed the program’s fifth MACJC North Division regular-season title in the past six years dating back to the 2008 campaign.
Previously claiming state football titles during prior odd-numbered years in 2011 and 2009, East Mississippi earned the school’s first-ever national football championship two years ago with a 55-47 triumph over then-No. 1 Arizona Western College during the 2011 El Toro Bowl/NJCAA Championship Game played in Yuma, Ariz. Led by current Ole Miss starting quarterback Bo Wallace, the 2011 NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year, the then-second ranked EMCC Lions capped their perfect 12-0 campaign in 2011 with the eight-point road win over then-No. 1 AWC after knocking off Hinds (55-24) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (42-17) during state playoff games held in Scooba.
This weekend will mark the second Mississippi Bowl appearance for Coach Stephens’ EMCC football program.
In 2009 after earning the school’s first-ever MACJC State/NJCAA Region 23 football championship with playoff wins over Jones County (26-16) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (75-71) in Scooba, the Randall Mackey-led Lions capped an 11-1 campaign four years ago by posting a 27-24 victory over their future 2011 NJCAA Championship Game opponent, Arizona Western, in Mississippi Bowl II also contested at Biloxi Indian Stadium.
As the NJCAA’s sixth-winningest football program over the last six years, EMCC is bidding to become the third MACJC school to earn multiple national football championships. Mississippi Gulf Coast (2007, 1984 & 1971) and Northwest Mississippi (1992 & 1982) have each claimed more than one national title on the gridiron, while MACJC foes Pearl River and Mississippi Delta won NJCAA football championships in 2004 and 1993, respectively. EMCC’s Stephens was an assistant coach on PRCC’s 2004 national championship team.
Heading into the NJCAA’s slate of postseason bowl games, the EMCC Lions continue to be the dominant team nationally on both sides of the football. Along with leading all NJCAA teams in scoring offense (63.2 pts/gm), touchdowns scored (97) and total offense (611.1 yds/gm), East Mississippi tops the national team leaders in scoring defense (7.7 pts/gm) and rushing defense as well as with 29 pass interceptions and 61 sacks on the year.
Having scored 45 or more points in every game this season under the command of NJCAA All-American quarterback candidate Dontreal Pruitt, including a 90-point effort against Coahoma and two other outings with 70+ points (79 vs. Northwest Mississippi & 70 vs. Mississippi Delta), the Lions’ 97 total touchdowns this season are 28 more than second-place Iowa Western’s 69 scores on the year. Just as dominant on defense in 2013, EMCC allowed just 33 total points during the team’s nine regular-season outings, including five shutout victories during a six-week span. The Lions have held the opposition scoreless in 34 of 44 quarters played this year.
In addition to leading the NJCAA with 41 rushing touchdowns and tied nationally (with Scottsdale) with 44 passing touchdowns this season, the 2013 EMCC Lions are also tied for the national lead among junior college teams with eight defensive touchdowns. East Mississippi’s eight defensive scores include seven pick-six pass interceptions, all by different players, and a fumble return for a touchdown by NJCAA All-Region 23 linebacker Christian Russell. The Lions have also produced four touchdowns via special teams on two punt return scores by all-region wide receiver C.J. Bates and another by all-region defensive back A.J. Stamps as well as an onside kickoff return by freshman speedster Kameron Myers.
Headquartered in Milledgeville, Ga., the unbeaten (11-0) and top-ranked Bulldogs of Georgia Military College are guided by 2010 NJCAA Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee Bert Williams, who also serves as the school’s athletic director. Under his leadership, the GMC Bulldogs were 2001 NJCAA National Champions while also claiming subsequent national runner-up finishes in both 2002 and 2005.
This season, Georgia Military ranks as the nation’s No. 1 rushing team on the strength of freshman running back Jovon Robinson from Wooddale High School in Memphis, Tenn. The former Auburn University signee averages an NJCAA-leading 195.4 yards per game on the ground, including a 313-yard rushing effort against Snow College (Utah), while also topping the national junior college ranks with 31 rushing touchdowns on the year. As a team, the GMC Bulldogs own NJCAA-best averages of 7.0 yards per rushing attempt and 293.5 rushing yards per contest. Georgia Military also rates fourth nationally scoring an average of 46.5 points per game for the season.