ATLANTA — Deion Sanders was sentimental before his final game at Jackson State, and those emotions grew after coming up short in the Celebration Bowl for the second straight year.
Quarterback Davius Richard ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns, including a 1-yard scoring plunge in overtime, and North Carolina Central beat Jackson State 41-34 on Saturday in the Celebration Bowl to spoil Sanders’ bid for an undefeated season in his farewell.
It was the second consecutive season that Sanders’ Tigers were favored before losing in the game regarded as the championship of teams from historically Black colleges and universities.
“I feel like we’ve won, but we didn’t win that game,” said Sanders, who will now devote his full attention to his new job as Colorado’s coach. He was tearful in a pregame speech to his players.
“I miss these guys already. I love them,” Sanders said after the game.
The Eagles’ defense made a goal-line stand on Jackson State’s first possession in overtime to preserve the win. Tight end Hayden Hagler’s drop on third down from the 1 set up an incompletion by Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders to end the game.
Sanders’ 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Hunter as time expired in regulation set up Alejandro Mata’s tying extra point to send the game to OT. It was the fourth scoring pass of the game for Sanders, who also ran for a score.
Jackson State (12-1) was denied its bid for the first undefeated season in school history. Deion Sanders wanted to finish the season with his Tigers first before taking over at Colorado. Shedeur Sanders will accompany his father to Boulder.
The win by NC Central (10-2) gave the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference a 6-1 edge over teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the Celebration Bowl.
Eagles coach Trei Oliver said he hopes the victory gives more respect to the MEAC and North Carolina Central after all the pregame attention was on “Coach Prime” and Jackson State.
“They had a chip on their shoulder,” Oliver said of his players. “The disrespect was real since we’ve been down here.”
Latrell Collier’s 7-yard scoring run with 4:31 remaining gave NCCU the lead. The Tigers answered with a 15-play drive that included Sanders’ 10-yard, fourth-down pass to TJ Martin.
Richard passed for 177 yards with a touchdown and ran for 97 yards and two scores. Richard showed his versatility on a three-yard drive for the game’s first touchdown. He had a 21-yard run, a 30-yard catch on a trick play and a 5-yard scoring run that gave the Eagles a 10-0 lead.
Sanders quickly showed he also boasts dual-threat skills as Jackson State outscored North Carolina Central 21-7 the remainder of the half. Sanders completed 13 of 14 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns and had four carries for 34 yards with another score in the half, giving the Tigers a 21-17 lead.
A fake punt early in the second half helped the Eagles reclaim the lead. Tight end Kyle Morgan took the snap on the fake punt and ran 43 yards to the Jackson State 24. Richard’s 12-yard scoring pass to Quentin McCall gave North Carolina Central a 23-21 lead following Adrian Olivo’s missed extra point.
Olivo’s 21-yard field goal late in the third quarter pushed the lead to five points.
Sanders completed 30 of 40 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns. A highlight was an 85-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Coleman. The touchdown pass to Hunter at the end of regulation was perhaps the biggest highlight.
“When I threw the ball, all I’ve got to do is put air under it, he’s going to do the rest,” Sanders said of Hunter.
COMMISH IN THE CROWD
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attended the game in support of his nephew, Jackson State sophomore defensive lineman Charlton “Charlie” Goodell. The younger Goodell is the son of Roger Goodell’s brother.
North Carolina Central: The Eagles relied on their stronger running game. A balanced running attack led by Richard and Latrell Collier gave NC Central a 276-78 advantage in rushing yards. “Those boys were running with an edge,” Richard said of the Eagles’ running backs.
Jackson State: The Tigers were resilient in responding to an early 10-0 deficit. Sanders was the key, producing as a runner and passer while leading the comeback.
North Carolina Central: The Eagles will look for back-to-back MEAC championships when they open their 2023 season at North Carolina A&T on Sept. 3.
Jackson State: With wide receivers coach TC Taylor moving up as the new coach, the Tigers will return to Atlanta to open the 2023 season against South Carolina State in the Cricket MEAC-SWAC Challenge.
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