North Carolina Central Upsets Jackson State in a Classic to win the Cricket Celebration Bowl

Photo by Miles Johnson

By: Miles Johnson, Managing Editor

Atlanta, GA–- North Carolina Central may not have been the favorites to take the Celebration Bowl back to Durham, but the Eagles used their underdog mentality to their advantage to upset Jackson State in what many call the “HBCU Super Bowl.” NCCU came into the game as the champions of the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) at 9-2. The Jackson State Tigers came in undefeated (13-0) as the champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and looked to send off former head coach Deion Sanders to Colorado in style. 


“This is going to be something that we will hold onto forever,” MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Baker said. “We got some names in the history books!”


The Eagles broke out to a 10-point lead in the 1st quarter after NCCU quarterback, Davius Richard ran for a 4-yard touchdown. From the start of the game, the game plan was to attack Jackson State by running the ball and getting the ball out of the hands of star quarterback Shedeur Sanders.


North Carolina Central rushed for 276 yards and had a time of possession of 37 minutes compared to Jackson States’ 21 minutes. Head coach of the Eagles and reigning MEAC coach of the year, Trei Oliver talked about executing their game plan Saturday afternoon.


“You’re going to win games throwing the ball, but to win championships you got to run the ball,” head coach Oliver said. “When you run the ball you keep Shedeur Sanders off the field. That was our game plan”


Shedeur had himself a day with 349 passing yards and four TDs. Jackson State matched North Carolina Central’s hot start as Sanders threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver DJ Stevens and later in the second quarter threw an 85-yard bomb to freshman wide receiver Kevin Coleman Jr. to take the lead 14-10.


North Carolina Central kept fighting in this nip and tuck ball game. The turning point in the game for the Eagles was their successful fake punt in the middle of the 3rd quarter with sophomore tight end Kyle Morgan running 43 yards on 4th to give them a three point lead.


“The fake punt changed the course of the game,” head coach Oliver said. 


Nothing topped the end of the game as Eagles’ junior running back Collier ran for a 7-yard touchdown to give them the lead. But Jackson State came back in the dying seconds as Shedeur Sanders threw a 19-yard pass to Travis Hunter for his second touchdown of the afternoon to end regulation. 


Eagles junior running back Latrell Collier, finished the game with 98 rushing yards and a touchdown and finished the season with 979 rushing yards and 9 touchdowns. Collier talked about what it meant to him to pull off this upset. 


“I’m so blessed,” Collier said. “I get to see all my guys happy, the support staff happy, the fans and it was true team effort today.”


In overtime, the Eagles quickly scored on four plays as Davius Richard ran for a QB sneak at the 1-yard line.


Jackson State had the opportunity to answer right back, but on 3rd & goal, sophomore Hayden Hagler dropped a wide open touchdown pass. On the next play, Sanders threw an incomplete pass as North Carolina Central’s secondary provided great coverage to help the Eagles pull off the upset.


“I feel like I let them down and that hurts me,” former head coach Deion Sanders said postgame.


Coach Prime later gave a heartfelt message to Jackson State as his tenure as head coach officially ended.


“I’m not walking away, I’m still always going to love HBCUs and my time.” Coach Prime said. “I was able to maximize my moments but if it had not been for those opportunities [at Jackson State] probably wouldn’t have received those others that I have received so I am forever in debt and I’m going to miss the Sonic Boom with all my heart.”


Jackson State will now look to move forward in the post Deion Sanders era and continue to build off their dominance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. 


North Carolina Central had a historic season with having the MEAC Coach of the Year, Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the year all in the same year and became just the third team in school history to reach a double-digit win season.