PITTSBURG — In a game where both team bunkered down to stop the opposing high-powered offenses, East Mississippi Community College ultimately held on for a 10-9 victory over Garden City Community College at Carnie Smith Stadium in Pittsburg on Thursday.
“It’s just a overwhelming feeling,” said East Mississippi defensive end Everitt Cunningham. “To have the opportunity to go for your second national title with guys you’ve shared blood, sweat and tears with is just a special opportunity.”
Cunningham was named the player of the game for his work dominating the Garden City offensive line.
EMCC captured their second consecutive national championship and fifth in the past seven years.
Both offenses spluttered to begin the game. Midway in the first quarter, East Mississippi quarterback Messiah DeWeaver found Dontario Drummond on the outside for a 23-yard reception, sparking the first score of the game on a Josh Smith 37-yard field goal.
Lion defensive end Everett Cunningham was responsible for the first touchdown of the game, stripping the ball away from a Garden City ball carrier and returning it for a 17-yard touchdown.
The East Mississippi defense was suffocating throughout the first half, allowing no pass completions and only 59 yards on the ground.
The Garden City defense allowed 184 total yards, and held firm on their side of the field, allowing just a field goal against one of the NJCAA's best offenses.
“The defense and Josh Hager deserve incredible credit. We’ve been an offensive team all year, our defense played well enough to win the game, but that’s why this is a national championship game," GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said. "Everybody said this was the two best teams"
EMCC corralled the dynamic duo of Charles West and Dedrick Mills in the opening half of play, with Mills rushing for 37 yards on 10 carries and West chipping in only 29 yards on the same amount of rushes.
The two averaged only 3.3 yards-per-attempt in the first half.
DeWeaver attempted 17 passes in the first half, completing nine for 79 yards. Coach Buddy Stephens dialed up a few different bubble screens to his wide receivers, attempting to get his playmakers the ball in space.
The strategy worked eary, but Garden City began to jump the routes as the game carried on, resulting in some big hits on Lions receivers.
Garden City looked to start off the second half with a game-shifting kick-return, but a holding call took a return for touchdown off the board.
The third quarter looked much like the first half, with the defenses controlling the action, but West found a seam against the Lions midway in the third quarter, breaking off a 47-yard line run to the EMCC 7 yard-line.
The Broncbusters had to settle for a field goal, cutting the lead to 10-3 with 4:06 remaining in the third quarter.
Eriq Kitchen and Cunningham continued to cause havoc, entering the fourth quarter with seventeen total tackles, with Kitchen accounting for 1.5 tackles-for-a-loss.
After conservative play-calling throughout the first half, the Broncbusters found more success against EMCC during the fourth quarter.
After driving deep inside of the EMCC redzone, Garden City misfired on a third down attempt, but a roughing the passer call gave them a second opportunity, leading to Mills punching in the touchdown to draw within one point.
“When we scored our touchdown, we scored by an inch,” said GCCC coach Jeff Sims.
The Broncbusters dialed up a creative two-point conversion attempt to try and take the lead, lining up with seven of their players as down linemen on the far side of the field.
The Lions stuffed the attempt to hold the score at 10-9 with inside of seven minutes to go in the game.
Late in the fourth quarter and Garden City with possession with two minutes remaining in the game, Lion defensive back Jacob Anderson came away with a diving interception near the Garden City 40 yard-line flicking the ball up to JaQuez Akins as he rolled to his back, sealing the game for East Mississippi.
After the win, East Mississippi joined Butler as the only schools in NJCAA history to win back-to-back titles twice.
“I apologize that I couldn’t help these guys be one point better,” Sims said.
Telegram sports writer J. Levi Burnfin contributed to this story.