South Carolina State humbles JSU with Celebration Bowl blowout

Published 9:19 am Sunday, December 19, 2021

ATLANTA (AP) — Deion Sanders and his Jackson State Tigers were riding high entering the Celebration Bowl. There was not much to celebrate afterward.

Cory Fields Jr. threw four touchdown passes, three to Shaquan Davis, and South Carolina State stunned Jackson State 31-10 on Saturday in a game considered to be the national championship of historically Black colleges and universities.

It marks the first time the Bulldogs (7-5) have topped the HBCUs since 2009. Jackson State (11-2) hasn’t won the title since 1996. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is now 5-1 all-time in the bowl game that pits its champion vs. the one from the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and has won each of the last four.

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“South Carolina State kicked our butt, every way, every fashion,” Sanders said. “They were more physical than us, more disciplined than us. We were overconfident and felt like they were just going to hand us the game.”

South Carolina State entered the game in Mercedes Benz Stadium as 10-point underdogs and Jackson State rolled into the contest with just one loss. But the SWAC champions never got going after taking an early lead.

The game was dominated by the defenses. South Carolina State limited Jackson State to just 194 yards of total offense, a record for the Celebration Bowl, which began in 2015. South Carolina State mustered just 268.

The Bulldogs scored their first three touchdowns shortly after turnovers by Jackson State (11-2) gave South Carolina State the ball in the red zone, at the Jackson State 5-, 16-, and 19-yard lines. And all three came after miscues by freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders, son of the head coach. He threw two interceptions, one of which glanced off the hands of a receiver, lost a fumble when sacked, and completed just 16 of 36 passes for 175 yards.

“Turnovers were big,” said South Carolina State head coach Oliver Pough. “We couldn’t drive the football. All of our scores were off of turnovers and us having a short field and being able to punch it in. It was really more of us using Jackson State’s gameplan against them to beat them because that’s what they’d done most of their games.”

Beyond the heroics of Fields and Davis, South Carolina State punter Dyson Roberts Jr., who averaged 49.9 yards on eight kicks, helped tilt the field in the Bulldogs’ favor with a 72-yarder in the first quarter.

“The punter was the MVP of the game without a doubt,” Pough said. “We hadn’t done a thing in the entire first quarter, and then he hits a punt and completely flips the field, and we were able to get a turnover on defense and give the offense a short field and get a score.”

Fields completed just 12 of 31 passes, but his four touchdowns were sweet. Davis caught a game-high five passes for 95 yards.

Shedeur Sanders guided the Tigers to a touchdown on their second possession, hitting Keith Corbin III with a 7-yard TD midway through the first quarter.

Midway through the second quarter, South Carolina State defensive end Patrick Godbolt sacked Shedeur Sanders and forced a fumble. Linebacker BJ Davis recovered to set the Bulldogs up at the Jackson State 5-yard line. Three plays later, Fields hit Davis over the middle for a touchdown to tie the score at 7-7.

Davis delivered a celebratory dance — complete with high-stepping — in the end zone that was a perfect imitation of those Deion Sanders performed many times after he made big plays as a defensive back with the Atlanta Falcons from 1989-93.

Davis was just muscling up.

“I just had to be more physical,” Davis said. “I wasn’t getting any calls (for pass interference). They were grabbing, pushing, pulling, so I knew I had to get more physical with them.”

The Bulldogs took a 10-7 lead on Gavyn Zimmerman’s 26-yard field goal shortly before halftime and pulled away in the second half.

Fields and Davis hooked up twice for 16-yard scores, once early in the third that stretched the lead to 17-7 and again in the fourth to cap a 93-yard drive that took 6:18 off the clock. Fields also hit Richard Bailey for a 15-yard TD in the third.

Shedeur Sanders had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage early in the third quarter, resulting in an interception by Kendall Moultrie that gave South Carolina State first-and-goal on the 16-yard line. South Carolina State later scored again after an interception by linebacker Aaron Smith.

BJ Davis had nine tackles and Godbolt had five tackles, three quarterback hurries, one pass breakup and 1.5 tackles for lost yardage for the Bulldogs.

“It was a wonderful win for us,” Pough said. “It’s been a good week for us, and we’ve had a wonderful time here and to cap it off with this win today was the cherry on top of the sundae.”