Atlanta, Ga—-Quarterback Davius Richard rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns, including a 1-yard scoring dive in overtime, as North Carolina Central defeated Jackson State 41-34 on Saturday in the Cricket Celebration Bowl to spoil Coach Prime’s bid for an undefeated season. There were 49,670 fans inside a sold out Mercedes-Benz Stadium to cheer on the Tigers.
Richard, the Celebration Bowl Offensive MVP, completed 15-of-20 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, and two scores on the ground, including the game-winning 1-yard run in overtime. He also caught a 31-yard pass from senior receiver E.J. Hicks, who later hit Richard on a pass for a two-point conversion.
Jackson State (12-1) entered the contest ranked fifth in the AFCA Top 25 poll with the nation’s top-rated defense, holding opponents to an average of 233.2 yards of total offense and 11.2 points scored. NCCU (10-2), ranked No. 21 in the country, recorded more than twice as many total yards and scored more than three times the points giving up by JSU. In fact, Jackson State had not allowed more than 24 points in a game all year long.
“I feel like we’ve won, but we didn’t win that game,” said Sanders, who now will ease into his new job as Colorado’s coach. He was very emotional in his pregame speech to his players.
Both teams exchanged the lead seven times, and the game was sent to overtime when the Tigers scored a touchdown on the final play of the game.
The win by N.C. Central gave the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference a 6-1 edge over teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference in the Celebration Bowl.
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.
Richard bobbed and weaved 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 early lead.
Sanders quickly got his troops moving 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 touchdown and had four carries for 34 yards with another score in the half, giving the Tigers a 21-17 advantage.
Defensively, the Eagles held the Tigers to just 68 rushing yards, while JSU quarterback Shedeur Sanders passed for 349 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for another score.
Latrell Collier’s 7-yard TD run with 4:31 remaining gave the Eagles the lead. JSU answered with a 15-play drive that included Sanders’ 10-yard, fourth-down pass to JD Martin.
Sanders’ 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Hunter at the end of the game 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.
NCCU’S defense made a critical goal-line stand on Jackson State’s first possession in overtime to seal the win. Tight end Hayden Hagler’s drop pass on third down from the one-yard set up an incompletion by Jackson State Sanders to end the game.
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.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attended the game in support of his nephew, Jackson State sophomore defensive lineman Charlton Goodell.
Hicks led the Eagles with 84 receiving yards on three catches, while sophomore receiver Quentin McCall also registered three receptions, including an acrobatic, toe-tapping grab in the end zone.
North Carolina Central: The Eagles will look for back-to-back MEAC championships when they open their 2023 season at North Carolina AT&T on Sept. 3.
Jackson State: With wide receivers coach T.C. 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.