The Deion Sanders era at Jackson State ended with a loss.
In Sanders’ final game coaching at JSU before heading to Colorado on a full-time basis, Sanders’ Tigers were upset 41-34 in overtime by NC Central in the Celebration Bowl, the HBCU national championship.
The loss marked the second straight season that Jackson State’s season ended in a Celebration Bowl defeat.
This year, JSU entered the game undefeated — but NC Central sent Coach Prime off to Boulder with a heartbreaking defeat.
NC Central was the sharper team early on and jumped out to a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter. That lead wouldn’t last long. Jackson State rallied to take a 14-10 lead and then had a 21-17 advantage going into halftime.
With Shedeur Sanders, Deion’s son, leading the way at quarterback for JSU, it looked like the Tigers had taken control. But NC Central did not back down. The Eagles outscored Jackson State 9-0 in the third quarter to flip that deficit into a 26-21 lead entering the fourth quarter.
A perfectly executed fake punt played a key part in NC Central’s comeback.
JSU would respond early in the fourth when Sanders hit former No. 1 recruit Travis Hunter for an 18-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 27-26 with 11:25 to go.
That was the first of three epic touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing possession, NC Central marched 73 yards in 11 plays while taking nearly seven minutes off the clock to go ahead 34-27 with 4:31 to play.
At that point, Jackson State needed to rally once again. And the Tigers leaned on the Sanders-to-Hunter connection to keep their Celebration Bowl hopes alive.
On the final play of regulation, Sanders delivered a beautifully thrown touchdown pass to Hunter on fourth-and-10 from the 19. Hunter caught the pass as time expired to send the game to overtime.
Once the game reached extra time, NC Central was not demoralized by allowing the game-tying touchdown. The Eagles offense opened overtime with a touchdown when quarterback Davius Richard plunged in from a yard out.
Jackson State had to score to keep the game alive and advanced to the NCCU 1-yard line. However, on third-and-goal from the 1, Hayden Hagler dropped what would have been the game-tying score. And then on fourth down, Sanders felt pressure and his toss to the end zone fell incomplete.
With that incompletion, NC Central got the stop to pull off the upset.
For Deion Sanders, it’s a disappointing way to end his three-year tenure at Jackson State. The Tigers finished with a 27-6 record during that span with two SWAC championships. However, the back-to-back Celebration Bowl losses will surely sting as Sanders makes his transition to the Pac-12.
Sanders has been pulling double duty since he was officially announced as Colorado’s head coach back on Dec. 3. That announcement came after JSU won the SWAC title game.
Since then, Sanders has been going back and forth from Jackson to Boulder as he tries to build up the Colorado roster with the transfer window open and the early signing period on the horizon. With his duties at Jackson State now complete, Sanders’ operation will head to Colorado on a full-time basis.
Sanders has already said that Shedeur will go to Colorado with him. How many other Jackson State players will follow Sanders to Colorado remains to be seen.