Despite losing their quarterback to injury five games in the season, and then their best offensive lineman after that, the East Mississippi offense has continued to motor along this year.
Averaging 41.5 points per game, the Lions were the fourth-most prolific offense in all of the NJCAA this season. After starter Vijay Miller suffered the season-ending injury at quarterback, Messiah deWeaver stepped in to helm the offense.
Since, he’s completing 69.2 of his passes for 149 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. Miller was completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 170.2 yards per game and eight touchdowns.
“We didn’t have to just adjust anything,” East Mississippi head coach Buddy Stephens said of the change at quarterback. “It’s just the fact you have a different guy under center. If you go back and look at our team from 2008 to now, it’s pretty much the same stuff.”
The same stuff is explosiveness. The Lions have 19 offensive touchdowns that went for 20 yards or more.
“They’re extremely talented, extremely well-coached at what they do … He (Stephens) has a formula, and he’s not going to change,” GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said. “They know what they’re going to do, and you know what they’re going to do. It’s a matter of stopping it.”
One of the first focuses for the Broncbusters’ defense is Dontario Drummond, the three-star wideout with offers from at least 12 FBS programs, according to 247sports.com.
Drummond has 52 catches for 818 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 15.7 yards per reception. And when he’s not burning secondaries, running back Deon McIntosh is running through them. The sophomore has 1,081 yards and 17 scores this season, with a long of 71.
“They’re going to throw the ball to their wideout, and they’re going to run the ball,” Sims said.
It’s up to the Buster defense to stop it.
Led by Dillon Williams, the Busters are surrendering 17.4 points per game. Williams, a sophomore from Holcomb, has 85 tackles and five sacks. Fellow linebacker Heston Lameta has 60 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
In the secondary, Trae Meadows has led the way, picking off and returning for a touchdown an Iowa Western pass earlier this year, helping the Busters down the Reivers.
“On defense, they’re really aggressive and really do a good job running for the ball,” Stephens said of the Busters. “They’re good enough on the back end to cover you if they want to bring pressure.”
With GCCC’s offense vs. EMCC’s defense and the GCCC defense vs. EMCC’s offense matchups looking fairly even on paper, the game could be decided in the oft-overlooked special teams phase of the game.
But according to Stephens, the mark of elite teams is good special teams, and both East Mississippi and Garden City are good there.
“I’ll measure teams by their special teams, by how well disciplined they are, and Garden City is very disciplined,” Stephens said.
The Busters have gotten return touchdowns on both kickoff and punts, and also blocked another punt for a score this season. The Lions also have a pair of return touchdowns, but they both came on punts.
Garden City’s punter James Dall is averaging 36.6 yards per punt, and has excelled at pinning opponents deep, getting 18 inside of the opponent 20 with just two touchbacks. He has a long of 69.
East Mississippi’s punters are averaging 32.6 yards per punt, with 13 inside the 20.
Even in field goals, the two teams are evenly matched.
Josh Smith is 5 for 7 on field goals, with a long of 47 yards, but is also 55 of 58 on PATs for the Lions. The Busters’ Ben Raybon is 11 for 13, with a long of 42 yards, and 35 of 38 on PATs.