Jackson State Head Coach Deion Sanders couldn’t get that undefeated season before leaving for Colorado. North Carolina Central shocked the Tigers to win the 2022 Celebration Bowl 41-34 on Saturday. A game that most thought would be controlled by Jackson State ended up being a back-and-forth contest that went to overtime. Starting quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who is also following his father to Colorado, sent the game to overtime with a strike to Travis Hunter. However, that wasn’t enough to get the win in overtime. So, how did Jackson State lose the Celebration Bowl? And how did our preview stack up to the result?
Jackson State Loses Second Straight Celebration Bowl
Jackson State was the favorite entering this contest. However, the MEAC was 5-1 in the Celebration Bowl before Saturday, and now the conference is 6-1. North Carolina Central was able to score 41 points on a Tiger defense that was averaging 11 points allowed this season. The Eagles found a way to score 34 points in regulation on the FCS-best defense. Then, NC Central’s defense showed the college football community just how good it can be with their own goal-line stand in overtime. But, how did the game get there? What happened to Coach Prime’s Jackson State squad?
First Quarter Back-and-Forth
The game started with a North Carolina Central drive. Eagles’ running back Latrell Collier got the game started with a 10-yard run. Two plays later Davius Richard tossed a 42-yard pass to EJ Hicks to move NC Central into Jackson State territory. Jackson State’s FCS-best defense was already being tested to start the game. However, a few short plays later, the Eagles were faced with a long third-and-seven at the Tigers’ 15-yard line. After giving up a 42-yard bomb a few plays earlier, Hunter nearly picked off Richard and the Eagles were forced to settle for an opening drive field goal.
Jackson State couldn’t get anything going on its first drive to start the game and gave the ball back to NC Central on its own 33-yard line. From there it took only seven minutes for the Eagles to score their first touchdown of the day. The highlight from this drive was a trick play that had Hicks hitting Richard for a 31-yard gain. 10-0 North Carolina Central early in the first quarter.
Jackson State’s offense got on the board four minutes later on its second drive of the day. It started with pretty good field position, and then the Tigers got a little bit of help from the Eagles’ defense in the form of a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds. Sanders then found DJ Stevens for a 24-yard touchdown. The Tigers were down three with 6:28 left in the first quarter. The Eagles were forced to punt on their next drive as the Jackson State defense finally woke up. However, NC Central forced a fumble on Jackson State’s next drive. Nothing came of that though and Jackson State got the ball back to end the first quarter.
Second Quarter Madness
The second quarter was much of the same. Jackson State took the lead off of an 85-yard touchdown catch and run by Kevin Coleman Jr. However, NC Central marched right back down the field and took the lead on a 10-yard touchdown run by J’Mari Taylor.
Sanders wasn’t going to let NC Central go into halftime with the lead. After a few tough runs by Sy’Veon Wilkerson, MEAC Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Baker had a monstrous hit on Coleman Jr. after a 13-yard gain. From here it was all Sanders. The signal-caller marched Jackson State right down the field with three straight passes and then a 17-yard scramble. With 35 seconds remaining in the half, Sanders found his way into the endzone. Making the score 21-17 to end a very crazy first half of football.
Second Half was Much of the Same
Jackson State started the second half with the ball, but NC Central was able to get pressure on Sanders on second and third downs to force a three-and-out to start. The Eagles got the ball back just under four minutes into the second half. Jackson State’s defense got the stop. NC Central was four yards short of the first down. Then, tight end Kyle Morgan took a direct snap. He caught everyone off guard and scampered for 43 yards. NC Central perfectly executed a fake punt in the 2022 Celebration Bowl. Four plays later the Eagles took back the lead with a beautiful pass from Richard and an even better catch from Quentin McCall. NC Central ended the third quarter with a 26-21 lead.
Jackson State and Sanders started the fourth quarter on a vengeance. Sanders took the Tigers on a 10-minute drive that ended in a touchdown pass to Hunter. However, the two-point try was unsuccessful. Leaving the score at 27-26. Another Tiger lead.
Richard wasn’t going to let Sanders have all of the fun, however. The Eagles’ quarterback marched his squad down the field and Collier took it in for a seven-yard touchdown. NC Central was able to convert its two-point try, giving the Eagles the lead. 34-27. It was a battle of the offenses in the fourth quarter. Sanders took his team back down the field with time expiring. Fans watched the seconds count down as Sanders dropped back on NC Central’s 19-yard line. It was a perfectly placed ball that only Hunter could get. Hunter kept his foot down. 34-33. An extra point tied it. Overtime was forced. 34-34 to end regulation.
Jackson State Loses Celebration Bowl in Overtime
Richard took his team right in for an overtime touchdown. The quarterback finished his day with a one-yard quarterback sneak. NC Central took a 41-34 lead and gave the ball to Jackson State for its overtime try. North Carolina Central forced a goal-line stand. Sanders threw an incomplete pass. The game was over.
The Sanders duo will now head west to Colorado and try to bring that team to a bowl game in 2023. As for NC Central? The Eagles showed the college football community that attention should be paid to both teams leading up to a bowl game. Not just the one with a farewell tour to complete.