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Celebration Bowl by the numbers: Jackson State vs. North Carolina Central

Tigers’ defense ranked No. 1 in SWAC; Eagles’ offense ranked No. 1 in MEAC

Jackson State University head football coach Deion Sanders and North Carolina Central University head football coach Trei Oliver each are vying for their school’s first Cricket Celebration Bowl win.

Both teams are looking to improve upon their 0-1 Celebration Bowl records. This is Jackson State’s second consecutive trip to the Celebration Bowl under Sanders; the Tigers lost to South Carolina State University last season. The North Carolina Central Eagles played in the 2016 Celebration Bowl, losing to Grambling State University.

Jackson State earned its berth to the bowl by defeating Southern University 43-24 on Dec. 3 to become the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champion. North Carolina Central finished tied for first in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and received its invitation to the bowl after defeating Norfolk State University 48-14 on Nov. 12.

Jackson State leads the all-time series against North Carolina Central 3-0, with the last matchup occurring in 1987, when the Tigers won 10-9 in Jackson, Mississippi, according to Kyle Serba, NCCU’s deputy athletics director for external affairs.

The winner of this year’s matchup will be the fourth different historically Black college to earn a Celebration Bowl victory. This year’s game will air live at noon EST on ABC from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Both Jackson State and North Carolina Central players swept conference offensive and defensive player of the year honors. The Tigers were ranked the No. 1 defense in the SWAC, and the Eagles were ranked the No. 1 offense in the MEAC.

Here’s a look at both teams by the numbers.

North Carolina Central

– North Carolina Central is led by MEAC offensive player of the year, quarterback Davius Richard, and MEAC coach of the year Trei Oliver.

– The Eagles had 17 players earn All-MEAC conference honors.

– Richard ranks sixth in the FCS in points responsible for scoring (224) this season, and he is tied for 12th in the FCS in rushing touchdowns (13). 

– This is the Eagles’ sixth MEAC football championship in school history. 

– North Carolina Central ranks No. 1 in third-down conversion percentage in the FCS, and the team is tied at No. 2 in fourth-down conversion percentage. 

– The Eagles’ defense allowed only 19 touchdowns in the red zone this season for a FCS-leading red zone defense (64.7%). 

– This season, the team has seven fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions for 18 turnovers gained overall. The team is tied for 54th in the FCS in turnovers gained.

– The team is ranked sixth in the FCS for scoring offense (38.4 points per game) and tied for 11th in scoring defense (20.36 average points per game).

– The Eagles do struggle with penalties, tied for 51st in fewest penalties with 64 penalties for 641 penalty yards this season.

Players to watch:

– Richard threw 24 touchdowns this season, with 184 completions and 2,486 passing yards. Richard also led the conference in rushing touchdowns and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award.

– Wide receiver E.J. Hicks is a second-team All-MEAC selection and led the team in receiving yards (529) and receiving touchdowns (seven).

– Robert Mitchell, a first-team All-MEAC selection and the MEAC offensive lineman of the year, helped bolster the Eagles’ offensive line, leading the team to a conference-best 2,251 total rushing yards.

– Running back Latrell Collier led the MEAC in rushing yards (881) this season.

Jackson State 

– Jackson State is led by SWAC offensive player of the year Shedeur Sanders and SWAC coach of the year Deion Sanders.

– Besides the Tigers winning the SWAC title for the second straight season, this is their 19th conference football championship in school history.

– Thirteen players on Jackson State’s roster earned All-SWAC conference honors.

– Freshman kicker Alejandro Mata ranks second in the FCS in field goal percentage. The Tigers kicker is 12-13 on the season. 

– The Tigers lead the FCS in total defense, allowing only 3.67 yards per play. The Tigers also led the FCS in third-down conversion percentage, allowing teams to convert 47 times this season. 

– In the FCS, Jackson State ranks No. 8  in scoring offense, with 38 points per game, and ranks No. 13 in time of possession, averaging 32 minutes per game. 

— The Tigers ranked No. 1 in the FCS in scoring defense (11.25 average points per game) and No. 9 in tackles for loss, earning 93 this season.

– The Tigers struggled with penalties this season, ranking 122nd out of 123 teams in fewest penalties. The team has 105 penalties for 947 penalty yards. 

– The team is No. 4 in turnovers gained this season, with 12 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries for 26 turnovers gained overall.

Players to watch:

— Quarterback Shedeur Sanders, the SWAC offensive player of the year, led the conference in passing yards (3,403) and passing touchdowns (36). Sanders is tied for third in the FCS in passing touchdowns. He also was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award.

— Linebacker Aubrey Miller is a two-time All-SWAC selection and won SWAC defensive player of the year this season. Miller led the conference in forced fumbles (four) and tallied 106 tackles on the season.

— Hybrid cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter has two interceptions this season. On offense he has tallied three touchdowns and 141 receiving yards.

— Wide receivers Dallas Daniels and Shane Hooks were All-SWAC selections this season, combining for 1,371 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns.

Liner Notes

Cricket Celebration Bowl

When: Noon EST, Saturday.
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.
Watch: ABC.
Information: www.thecelebrationbowl.com

Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, "Go Irish."