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N.C. Central, Prairie View A&M are both playing for new coaches in MEAC/SWAC Challenge

This interconference matchup will be in Atlanta through 2020

The MEAC/SWAC Challenge, now in its 14th year, will be played in its new home in Atlanta on Sunday. The early-season matchup, which features a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) against a foe from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), will make Atlanta its home until 2020.

The game Sunday at Pete Petit Field at Georgia State Stadium will be between Prairie View A&M of the SWAC and North Carolina Central of the MEAC and will serve as an appetizer to the season-ending Celebration Bowl, also in Atlanta.

The N.C. Central Eagles open their 2018 campaign with new head coach Granville Eastman, who worked under former head coach Jerry Mack as assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and safeties coach for four seasons. Mack is now the offensive coordinator at Rice University.

Under Eastman, the defense was one of the best in the MEAC. It’s led by one of the best players in historically black college and university (HBCU) football, Davanta Reynolds, the preseason MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. On Sunday, he’ll be facing a Prairie View A&M offense that proved last week that it could score, putting up 28 points against FBS opponent Rice University before losing 31-28 on a last-second field goal by the Owls.

It’s likely that Reynolds will be matched up against Prairie View Panthers receiver Tristen Wallace, an Oregon transfer who had five catches for 147 yards and a touchdown versus Rice. Quarterback Jalen Morton completed 16 of 28 passes for 244 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Prairie View coach Eric Dooley, who took over after coming from Grambling State, is 0-1 but looking for redemption Sunday. He’d also like to avoid a repeat of Prairie View’s first appearance in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in 2011, when it lost to Bethune-Cookman.

The MEAC/SWAC Challenge started in 2005 in Birmingham, Alabama. Here are some top moments from previous games:

2017: Southern University 14, South Carolina State 8
Ace W. Mumford Stadium – Baton Rouge, Louisiana

What we remember: Southern won the close game behind the work of quarterback Austin Howard and running backs Devon Benn and Herbert Edwards. S.C. State All-American linebacker Darius Leonard also became the school’s all-time leading tackler during the game.

2016: Alcorn State vs. Bethune-Cookman
Municipal Stadium – Daytona Beach, Florida

What we remember: The game was suspended in the second quarter because of the weather.

2015: S.C. State 35, Arkansas – Pine Bluff 7
Citrus Bowl – Orlando, Florida

What we remember: The South Carolina State defense allowed just 140 total yards to help the Bulldogs overcome five turnovers and beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Senior defensive end Javon Hargrave was the star, posting seven tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks while picking up MVP honors.

2014: North Carolina A&T 47, Alabama A&M 13
Bright House Networks Stadium – Orlando

What we remember: The North Carolina A&T State Aggies sprinted for touchdown runs of 26, 59 and 80 yards as well as a 95-yard kickoff return by junior Tony McRae, all in the first half, to cruise to a 47-13 win. Tarik Cohen was named the game’s MVP after rushing for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.

2013: Florida A&M 27, Mississippi Valley State 10
Citrus Bowl – Orlando

What we remember: Damien Fleming, Omari Albert and Al-Terek McBurse of the Rattlers ran for touchdowns as Florida A&M beat Mississippi Valley State 27-10. Fleming passed for 110 yards and ran for 38 before leaving in the third quarter because of leg cramps.

2012: Bethune-Cookman 38, Alabama State 28
Citrus Bowl – Orlando

What we remember: Alabama State scored on three of its first four possessions to take a 21-0 second quarter lead. Broderick Waters threw two touchdowns and ran for another as Bethune-Cookman erased the three-touchdown first-half deficit to defeat Alabama State.

2011: Bethune-Cookman 63, Prairie View A&M 14
Citrus Bowl – Orlando

What we remember: Jamarr Robinson ran for two touchdowns and passed for another to lead Bethune-Cookman past Prairie View A&M 63-14. Isidore Jackson and Anthony Jordan scored two touchdowns each for the defending MEAC co-champs.

2010: Southern 37, Delaware State 27
Citrus Bowl – Orlando

What we remember: Dray Joseph threw for 162 yards and a touchdown and Southern scored 21 fourth-quarter points for a 37-27 victory against Delaware State. The victory gave Southern coach Stump Mitchell a successful debut as Jaguars coach.

2009: S.C. State 34, Grambling 31
Citrus Bowl – Orlando

What we remember: South Carolina State quarterbacks Malcolm Long and Derrick Wiley combined to throw three touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a 34-31 win over Grambling.

2008: Hampton 17, Jackson State 13
Citrus Bowl – Orlando

What we remember: Hampton converted a pair of second-half turnovers into touchdowns to rally past Jackson State. Jackson State’s Trae Rutland hit Rodney Gray with a 31-yard scoring pass on the Tigers’ first possession of the game. But the SWAC team didn’t score again until the middle of the fourth quarter. Three turnovers in the third quarter destroyed the Tigers.

2007: Southern 33, Florida A&M 27
Legion Field – Birmingham, Alabama

What we remember: Bryant Lee completed 22 of 29 passes for 215 yards and one touchdown and Darren Coates rushed for 142 yards and two scores to lead the Southern Jaguars to a 33-27 victory over the Florida A&M Rattlers.

2006: Hampton 27, Grambling 26 (OT)
Legion Field – Birmingham

What we remember: Derius Swinton blocked Grambling State’s PAT in overtime to preserve Hampton’s 27-26 victory.

2005: S.C. State 27, Alabama State 14
Legion Field – Birmingham

What we remember: South Carolina State quarterback Cleveland McCoy took home MVP honors in the inaugural game in front of an announced crowd of 18,452 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Alabama State quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns to take MVP honors for the Hornets.

John X. Miller is the senior HBCU editor for Andscape. He's a father, jazz aficionado and die-hard UNC basketball fan.