Former Natchez High players on national championship team

Published 12:54 am Thursday, December 13, 2018

NATCHEZ — A little over a year ago, E.J. Woods and Shavoke Herrington were seniors on Natchez High School’s football team. Now they are part of a collegiate football dynasty.

“How do you spell dynasty? EMCC,” said Herrington, a freshman cornerback on the East Mississippi Community College Lions’ undefeated state and national championship team.

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EMCC, located in Scooba, is not only known for producing winning football teams; the school also is the subject of the popular Netflix documentary series, “Last Chance U,” that documents the team’s struggles each year since 2016 to win on the football field.

Recent alumni from the EMCC football program include former Ole Miss quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Bo Wallace.

Herrington and Woods, a freshman linebacker, were both instrumental in EMCC going 12-0 overall and 6-0 in conference play, winning the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MAJAC) state championship and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national championship.

“Definitely feels good to be a part of a winning program,” Woods said. “You have to work harder than everyone else. This team is a dynasty. Not many people can say they won a state and national championship. That’s an awesome experience.”

This was the Lions’ fifth NJCAA national championship in the last eight seasons.

“Being undefeated and being on a winning program, is wonderful,” Herrington said. “Undefeated is something I’ll always cherish. Everybody on the field had the same mentality. We worked hard in practice.”

East Mississippi Community College held on for a 10-9 win over the Garden City (Kan.) Community College Blockbusters on Nov. 29 at Pittsburg, Kansas to win the national title.

“It was great. Well-deserved for us. Especially being on national TV,” Woods said.

“We worked hard for this. It was well-deserved. Being on TV helped in recruiting,” Herrington said.

As for how the Lions were able to pull off the win, Herrington said, “It was very nerve-racking. We didn’t score after the half. With the defense we had, I knew we could take it. Defense wins championships.”

And it was the defense that produced the only touchdown for EMCC in the national title game when sophomore defensive lineman Everitt Cunningham recovered a fumble and went 11 yards for the score and a 10-0 Lions lead early in the second quarter.

Garden City pulled within 10-9 on a Dedrick Mills one-yard TD run, but the Lions’ defense kept Kahri Love out of the end zone on a two-point conversion run.

“The game laid on the defense’s shoulders. So we had to make plays in crunch time,” Woods said. “We prepared for that play for 12 weeks. When the time came, we were able to make the play.”

While Herrington has just one tackle, Woods ended up with seven total tackles and one pass break-up.

After taking care of Copiah-Lincoln Community College 31-7 on Nov. 3 in the MACJC State Semifinals, it was on to Ellisville face off with Jones College for the state title. The Lions rallied from a 14-7 deficit with 4:14 to go in the third quarter to take a hard-fought 19-14 victory.

Woods had four total tackles, two forced fumbles, and one pass break-up. Herrington had three total tackles and fumble recovery.

“We knew they couldn’t score anymore. We had to put a couple of drives together,” Woods said. “We had to lock down on defense. Forced six turnovers — three interceptions and three fumbles.”

“That game was very tense. We tried to talk to the offense and get them motivated,” Herrington said. “We told them not to put their heads down. Deon (McIntosh) had a big run.”

The comeback actually started just 43 seconds later when TyQuan Ulmer connected with Dontario Drummond on a 73-yard touchdown pass. McIntosh scored on a 71-yard run with 8:27 to go in the fourth quarter. The defense came through after that to offset a missed extra point and a failed two-point conversion.

EMCC pretty much rolled through the competition in its nine regular-season games. The one exception was a 24-21 win at East Central Community College on Sept. 27.

The very next week, on Oct. 4, the Lions played at Northwest Mississippi Community College in a battle of No. 1 versus No. 2. And EMCC got its revenge from a year ago. Both Woods and Herrington said the 34-6 win over Northwest was the most satisfying win of the regular season.

“We dominated them for four quarters,” Woods said.

“After last year, we worked hard and let coach know that they weren’t going to put him through that predicament again,” Herrington said.