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'South Carolina State kicked our butts': Deion Sanders' Jackson State squad humbled in Celebration Bowl

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ATLANTA — Better luck next time, Prime.

This version of the Celebration Bowl was all about the underdog.

South Carolina State crushed the heavily-favored Jackson State squad coached by the legendary Deion Sanders, 31-10, to claim the Black college football national championship in a shocker.

“South Carolina State kicked our butts,” Sanders said. “In every way imaginable. They out-physicaled us, out-threw us. Much more disciplined than us. And I feel like we were over-confident and overlooked them, as if they were just going to hand us the game.”

So much for the hype that surrounded Sanders’ team, which won the SWAC title and fueled much of the buzz that resulted in a Celebration Bowl-record crowd of 48,653.

The unheralded MEAC champion Bulldogs (7-5) – with quarterback Corey Fields Jr. throwing three of his four TD passes in the game to MVP Shaquan Davis – dominated by cashing in on one J-State mistake after another. The coach’s son, Shedeur Sanders, committed three turnovers (two interceptions, one lost fumble) but it was clearly a team effort as a defense that ranked among the best in the FCS played its worst game of the season.

Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders during the Celebration Bowl.
Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders during the Celebration Bowl.

South Carolina State’s defense, on the other hand, allowed just 194 total yards. The Bulldogs only yielded 19 rushing yards for the game.

In another sense, the upset seemed fitting. South Carolina State, led by veteran coach Buddy Pough, has been an underdog all season. The Bulldogs started 0-3, then 1-4. Now, they finish the season by winning five of their final six games.

Think they weren’t motivated by a few things?

“At first they said we wouldn’t score 21 points,” Davis said of the projected challenge against a defense that allowed 13.5 points per game and led the FCS with 52 sacks. “We had to come out and prove them wrong.”

South Carolina State wide receiver Shaquan Davis celebrates with wide receiver Will Vereen after catching a touchdown pass against Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.
South Carolina State wide receiver Shaquan Davis celebrates with wide receiver Will Vereen after catching a touchdown pass against Jackson State in the Celebration Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021.

But it was deeper than that. Cornerback Decobie Durant, whose huge sack in the second half helped him garner Defensive MVP honors for the game, recalled the vibe that existed when he and teammates visited a local mall in the days leading up to the game.

“A lot of people were like, 'So, y’all the team Jackson State is playing?' " Durant said. “They had never heard of South Carolina State… A lot of people were stopping us (asking), 'Do y’all play basketball?' "

They relished the underdog role, and it had to feel a lot sweeter to earn a championship measure of respect in the final analysis.

And perhaps that goes double for Pough, who played on the O-line for his alma mater during the 1970s and has headed the program for 20 seasons.

While he has been effusive in his praise for his coaching counterpart in the matchup, acknowledging the impact that Sanders’ presence has had on HBCU football, it had to be so gratifying for a coaching lifer – who not too long ago was thought to be on the verge of being pushed out of his job – to come out on top against an upstart coach who just won the Eddie Robinson Award as the Coach of the Year in the FCS.

South Carolina State head coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough gets doused after the Bulldogs defeated Jackson State.
South Carolina State head coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough gets doused after the Bulldogs defeated Jackson State.

The Bulldogs were 10-point underdogs. In beating adversity throughout their journey this season, they survived a lot of games in the nick of time in crunch time.

But this time, with no miracle comeback by J-State even hinted, SC State had command of the game by early in the fourth quarter. Pough felt the significance of that.

“To have won the game earlier in the game and to be able to stand there the last 10 or so minutes of the game and not necessarily be stressed out like we always are in all of our games, because all of our games are close games in our league was awfully special to us,” Pough said. “So, I got a chance to look around and see the stands. So, it was fun.”

And to many, such an expected chance to bask in the glory of a championship.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: South Carolina State dominates Jackson State to win Celebration Bowl