Atlanta, GA- The 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl held at Mercedes Benz Stadium did not disappoint. The record-setting crowd of 48,653 people for the event saw South Carolina State Bulldogs pull off a shocking upset over Jackson State Tigers 31-10.
Jackson State entered the game as a 10.5-point favorite and had all the buzz. Jackson State signed the number 1 recruit in the nation this week, has a Hall of Fame NFL player as the head coach in Deion Sanders, and many believed had the better talent. Jackson State went 11-1 with a record-setting season and won the SWAC. Deion Sanders was named SWAC Coach of the Year, and freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders was named Freshman Player of the Year in the SWAC.
South Carolina State started the season 0-4 and had a huge hill to climb just even to reach the game, let alone win it. The Bulldogs finished the season 6-5 and went 5-0 in conference play to win the MEAC. Their defense and the run game carried them throughout the season. Decobie Durant was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulldogs’ head coach Buddy Pough was named MEAC Coach of the Year. The Bulldogs also had plenty of experience in close game situations, with six of their eleven games played this season came down to a one-possession game.
The Bulldogs defense only gave up 19 yards rushing, forced a fumble, and had two interceptions. The Bulldog’s defense forced three turnovers that gave their offense the ball inside their 20-yard line. The Bulldogs took advantage of the short field and scored touchdowns on all three possessions. This was one of the keys to the game for the Bulldogs. Also, the 19 yards rushing they held the Tigers to was a Celebration Bowl game record for any team.
Bulldogs’ redshirt sophomore receiver Shaq Davis had a record-setting day. Davis came in as the team’s leading receiver and showed why he was their go-to guy all year long. Davis had five catches for 95 yards receiving and three receiving touchdowns. Davis’s three receiving touchdowns were also a Celebration Bowl Game record and got him the MVP award for the game.
Tigers’ freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders was held to his second-lowest passing yards on the season (175) and lowest completion percentage (44%) on the season. The Tigers’ defense didn’t show up either in this game. Despite forcing two turnovers, they allowed the Bulldogs to rush for 102 yards as a team and couldn’t stop Shaq Davis on the outside.
Coach Sanders opened up his post-game comments praising South Carolina State’s preparation coming into this game.
“South Carolina State kicked our buts, every way, and every fashion. They out physical us out threw us, and much more disciplined than us. And I feel we were overconfident, overlooked them like they were just going to hand us the game.”
Those comments said it all for the outcome of this game. The Bulldogs’ players echoed those words and said they felt that all week in Atlanta after hearing how much better Jackson State was and how they would beat them.
This great event ended with the announcement of MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas announcing he would be retiring. Thomas served in the role since 2002 and was one of the pioneers in having the Celebration Bowl game come to life. Sonja Stills will take over effective January 1, 2022, and she will look to continue pushing forward the work Dennis Thomas did while he held the position. The 2022 season will have a lot to look forward to. How will Jackson State bounce back and continue success with a new face on campus? Will this be Buddy Pough’s last season on the sidelines for South Carolina State? Will a new champion rise in the MEAC and SWAC to dethrone the Tigers and Bulldogs? Fall of 2022 will be an exciting time for HBCU football as Florida A&M and Howard will headline the 2022 MEAC vs SWAC kickoff challenge in Atlanta.