ELLISVILLE, MS (WDAM) - Shortly after commending his players for their efforts, Jones College football coach Steve Buckley aptly summed up what turned out to be a disappointing Saturday afternoon for his Bobcats.
“It doesn’t feel very good to finish second, does it?” Buckley said.
Judging by the faces and body language of his Bobcats, no, it did not.
Not after the fourth-ranked Bobcats gave defending national champion East Mississippi Community College everything they had and nearly more than the Lions could handle before falling 19-14 in the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges’ football championship at Bobcat Stadium.
“I thought our kids came out and played their tails off,” Buckley said. “We had a bunch of chances to win this football game, but the bottom line is you can’t give a good football team opportunities like that.”
The Bobcats (9-2), who saw an eight-game winning streak snapped, turned the ball over six times, including a trio of giveaways inside the Lions’ 20-yard line, and two more on the Bobcats’ final two possessions of the game.
Jones held the Lions to 276 yards total offense, with 174 yards coming on a trio of plays that cost the Bobcats dearly: a 28-yard touchdown pass that gave the Lions a 7-0 halftime lead; a 75-yard touchdown pass that brought them back within a point after Jones County took the lead in the third quarter; and a 71-yard touchdown run that provided East Mississippi’s winning points with less than nine minutes to play.
“Missed tackles,” Buckley said. “Those are the things you talk about. You can’t turn the ball over and you can’t miss tackles. In any football game of this magnitude, you can’t do those things.”
Jones had either team’s best scoring opportunity in the first quarter come to a halt when Donte Edwards lost the handle at the East Mississippi 5 after a 15-yard catch.
In the second quarter, Jones County had reached the Lions’ 25, when quarterback Stetson Bennett sailed a pass that was intercepted at the 11-yard line by defensive back Jaquez Akins, who took the turnover 60 yards to the JC 25-yard line.
Former Laurel High School quarterback Tyquan Ulmer entered the game in place of East Mississippi starter Messiah DeWeaver. Two plays in, Ulmer found his former high school teammate, Dontario Drummond, along the sideline with about an 8-yard pass.
Drummond did the rest, slipping past his defender, who had slipped to the ground, covering 28 yards for the first touchdown of the game midway through the second quarter.
The score stood up through the rest of the first half, before Jones opened the seizing the momentum to open the second half.
The Bobcats took the opening possession of the second 65 yards in 12 plays to tie the game. Bennett went 3-of-4 for 32 yards and the Lions helped keep the drive alive with a personal foul-facemask on fourth-and-1. Bennett capped the march with a 10-yard run around right end.
JC fumbled on its next possession to set up East Mississippi at its 43-yard line, but the Bobcats came up with two sacks in three snaps to force a punt.
On the first snap, Bennett found Gabe Douglas down the right sideline. Douglas beat his coverage to the ball, then used a stiff arm to create enough space to turn on the jets and complete the 48-yard scoring play for a 14-7.
East Mississippi (11-0), which was seeking its 16th consecutive victory, answered immediately.
Drummond found himself in bracket coverage along the sideline. It didn’t matter. He pulled in Ulmer’s eight-yard toss, slipped through one defender, juked a second, and was gone for a 75-yard touchdown.
A five-yard penalty pushed the ball back on the extra point, and the attempt slipped to the right to leave the Bobcats clinging to a 14-13 lead.
The Bobcats appeared to be in good shape after coming up with their third partial block of a punt on the afternoon. The Bobcats moved from their 47 to the Lions’ 21 before Bennett lost a fumble with East Mississippi recovering at its 11-yard line.
Ulmer ripped off an 18-yard run to get the Lions out of the hole, and after an incompletion, Deon McIntosh broke two arm tackles near the line, then split the middle of the Bobcats’ defense and went 71 yards to put East Mississippi up 19-14.
Jones County had three more shots but came up a yard-and-a-half short of a first down on a fake punt at the Lions’ 24-yard line before Bennett threw an interception on each of the Bobcats’ last two possessions.
“Our kids put it all on the line, and if you’re going to point a finger at anyone, point it at me,” Buckley said. “I didn’t get ‘em ready to not turn the ball over and not miss tackles.”
Drummond finished with four catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns and he celebrated the Lions’ second consecutive MACJC crown and their sixth in the past 10 years.
“I can’t explain this right now,” Drummond said. “It feels great. I think it was just confidence, just come home with it.”
Jones County running back Kalyn Grandberry rushed for 62 yards on 17 carries for the Bobcats while Bennett completed 17-of-31 passes for 215 yards with three interceptions. Immanuel Jones had seven catches for 67 yards and Douglas had three catches for 87 yards.
East Mississippi is expecting to receive an invitation to play in the junior college national champion game set for Nov. 29. Jones County also could be in line to play in a postseason game.