By Shawn Wansley
Jones College Sports Information Director
PERKINSTON – The 5th-ranked Jones College Bobcats knew they would have to play disciplined defense to slow down the 7th-ranked Eastern Arizona College Gila Monsters in Mississippi Bowl XI.
The Bobcats did that and much more, holding the Gila Monsters in check, as they rolled to a 27-7 victory here Sunday afternoon at A.L. May Stadium on the campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Eastern Arizona entered the game averaging 268.6 yards per game on the ground, which is second in the nation.
Jones held the Gila Monsters to only 101 yards rushing – with 68 yards coming on one play – and zero yards passing.
Bobcat end Marquez Bembry (Atlanta, Georgia), who was named Jones College's Most Valuable Defensive Player for the game, was confident the defense would play well.
"We had played the triple option two times before (Holmes and Southwest), so we came in here with 'eye' discipline, making sure each guy knows exactly who they are supposed to have," he said. "Since we had played it two times already, it was kind of normal for us."
Bembry finished the game with six tackles, one sack, four and a half tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Bobcat head coach Steve Buckley credited defensive coordinator Dwike Wilson and the coaches for having the players in position throughout the game.
"You can't say enough about our defensive staff, Coach Wilson and what they do week in and week out," Buckley said. "To shut down an explosive offense like that was amazing. They basically shut them down to one play."
Jones ended the game with 19 tackles for loss and five sacks.
The Bobcats took advantage of a fumbled punt to get on the scoreboard first.
EAC mishandled a punt and John David Rutherford (St. Stanislaus) recovered at the Gila Monster 24-yard line.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett (Blackshear, Georgia) hit wide receiver Immanuel Jones (Amory) for a 16-yard pass down to the 8-yard line.
But the drive stalled and Cristofer Thompson (Adams County Christian School) booted a 28-yard field goal to put Jones up 3-0 with 5:16 left in the first quarter. Thompson would be named the Jones College Most Valuable Offensive Player for going 2-for-2 on field goals, 3-for-3 on extra points and having three touchbacks on kickoffs.
The Gila Monsters would answer quickly.
They took over on their own 32 after the kickoff and on the first play from scrimmage, running back Keyshawn Lowe took an option pitch around left end and raced 68 yards for a touchdown. Demitri Fotinos kicked the extra point and Eastern Arizona led 7-3 with 4:54 showing in the first quarter.
The Bobcats took the lead for good early in the second quarter.
They took over on the Gila Monster 44-yard line after a 25-yard punt.
Jones faced a fourth and 1 at the 35 and got the first down on a 15-yard run by Donte Edwards (Mobile, Alabama). Edwards followed with a 16-yard run to give Jones a first and goal at the 4.
The Bobcats appeared to be stopped and on fourth and goal at the 6, Thompson kicked a 23-yard field goal. But, Eastern Arizona was called for a personal foul on the play and Jones would get a first and goal on the 3.
On the next play, Kalyn Grandberry (Memphis, Tennessee) ran it in for a touchdown. Thompson's extra point gave the Bobcats a 10-7 lead with 8:03 to play in the first half.
Jones began its next drive at its own 40 and drove to the Eastern Arizona 29, where the drive stalled.
Thompson would then drill a 46-yard field goal to put the Bobcats up 13-7 with 2:25 left in the first half.
The Jones' kicking game would come through in a big way early in the third quarter.
The Gila Monsters were forced to punt and Nataurean Watts (Petal) blocked the kick. Rutherford picked up at the 12-yard line and ran it in for the 'scoop and score.' Thompson's extra point gave the Bobcats a 20-7 lead with 11:56 remaining in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Eastern Arizona had moved the ball – with the help of three 15-yard penalties – to the Jones' 23. But on third and 17, linebacker Daylen Gill (Louisville) forced a fumble and Bembry recovered at the Bobcat 41-yard line.
Jones then put together its longest drive of the game and went 59 yards in 13 plays to clinch it. Quarterback Fred Barnum (Warren Central) zipped a 4-yard pass to Natorian Watts (Petal) for the touchdown. A key play in the drive was when punter Greg Hayden (Vicksburg) was rushed heavily and ran for six yards and a first down while attempting a punt on fourth and two from his own 49.
Thompson's extra point ended the scoring with 43 seconds to play.
Buckley noted each phase of the game contributed to the win.
"We do this thing with three phases – offense, defense and kicking game," he said. "We did what we had to do to win this ball game."
Jones ended the game with only 205 yards of offense, including just 31 rushing yards. Buckley said the Bobcats just wanted to possess the ball and play to its strengths.
"They had eight or nine in the box and they were playing zero coverage," he said. "We probably should have thrown it more early on, but we wanted to control the ball and take control of the line of scrimmage. We wanted to keep it in front of the chains, use the punting game to our advantage and play off of the defense."
In addition to Bembry, numerous Bobcat defenders had excellent games.
Linebacker Nick Anderson (Vicksburg) led the team in tackles with eight and also had a half TFL. Gill had six tackles, one and a half sacks, two TFLs, one forced fumble and one quarterback hurry. Chei Hill (Miami, Florida) had six tackles, one sack and three TFLs. He ends the year as the nation's leader in TFLs with 39 and he also had 15 sacks, which is fourth in the nation.
Hill was also named the Mississippi Bowl Player of the Year for the team representing the MACJC in the bowl game.
Jonathan Haynes (Ray Brooks) had five tackles and an interception. Davis Harrison (Lamar School) had four tackles and one and a half TFLs and DaShawn Crawford (Bay Springs) had three tackles, one and a half sacks and two and a half TFLs. Enrique Whaley (Stone) also had a pass interception.
Bembry, who will be signing with the University of Kentucky later this month and heading to Lexington in January, was happy the way his career turned out at Jones.
"I enjoyed it," he said. "It's not the same as the city, but I kind of adapted to it. I just tried to come out and give it my all. Today was my last game, so I just wanted to come out and play hard. I wanted to leave out on a good note and I made sure I did."
Sunday's victory gives Jones its first 10-win season since 2001 and it was the first bowl win for the Bobcats since they defeated Georgia Military College 42-35 in the 1998 Grand Isles Bowl in Georgia.
Buckley said this was the way to end the season.
"It's a whole lot better feeling than the last time we played," he said, referring to the 19-14 loss to No. 1 East Mississippi last month in the MACJC championship game. "We wanted to do this for the kids and they deserve this moment right now. They have been a class act for the last three days representing Mississippi in the Mississippi Bowl.
"It's been a great experience for us, the kids and everybody involved. Our kids did a great job."
Jones College 27, Eastern Arizona 7
A.L. May Stadium/George Sekul Field
Eastern Arizona (9-3) 7 0 0 0 – 7
Jones College (10-2) 3 10 7 7 – 27
1stquarter – Jones, Cristofer Thompson 28-yard field goal, 5:16. 3-0, Jones.
1stquarter – Eastern Arizona, Keyshawn Lowe 68-yard run, 4:54. Demitri Fotinos PAT. 7-3, Eastern Arizona.
2ndquarter – Jones, Kalyn Grandberry 3-yard run, 8:03. Thompson PAT. 10-7, Jones.
2ndquarter – Jones, Thompson 46-yard field goal, 2:25. 13-7, 13-7.
3rdquarter – Jones, J.D. Rutherford 12-yard blocked punt return, 11:56. Thompson PAT. 20-7, Jones.
4thquarter – Jones, Natorian Watts 4-yard pass from Fred Barnum, :43. Thompson PAT. 27-7, Jones.
Eastern Arizona Jones
12 FD 14
45-101 Rushes-Yards 34-31
0-5-2 Comp-Att-Int 13-25-1
0 Passing Yards 174
101 Total Offense 205
8-48 Penalties-Yards 9-85
9-29.7 Punts-Ave. 5-39.6
3-2 Fumbles-Lost 2-2
JC – Kalyn Grandberry 17-35; Donte Edwards 7-23; Greg Hayden 1-6; Fred Barnum 1-0; Immanuel Jones 1-minus 2; Team 2-minus 4; Stetson Bennett 5-minus 27.
JC – Stetson Bennett 8-18-1 for 113; Fred Barnum 5-7-0 for 41.
JC–Immanuel Jones 4-49; Brodie King 3-45; Natorian Watts 3-26; Dontavious Porter 2-21; Nataurean Watts 1-33.
The No. 5 Jones College Bobcats celebrate after winning the 2018 Mississippi Bowl with a 27-7 victory over No. 7 Eastern Arizona.
John David Rutherford (26) celebrates recovering a fumble for the Bobcats.
Bobcat Marquez Bembry (44) gets his hands on Eastern Arizona quarterback Ishois Times (7).
Jones College Most Valuable Offensive Player Cristofer Thompson with Mississippi Bowl Chairman Steven Campbell Jr.
Photo 4 Jones College Most Valuable Defensive Player Marquez Bembry with Mississippi Bowl Chairman Steven Campbell Jr.
Chei Hill, the Mississippi Bowl Player of the Year for the team representing the MACJC in the bowl game, is congratulated by game sponsors Barry Harper (left) and Dub Herring.