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Cricket Celebration Bowl

S.C. State, Shaq Davis shut down Jackson State in 31-10 Celebration Bowl win

The Bulldogs scored 24 unanswered points, upsetting the Tigers

ATLANTA – South Carolina State’s Shaquan Davis was the kryptonite for the highly regarded Jackson State defense.

Davis, the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-5 wide receiver, set a Celebration Bowl record with three touchdown receptions and anchored the Bulldogs’ offense with a team-high five receptions for 95 yards. Davis’ impactful performance earned him offensive MVP honors.

Davis capped off one touchdown with the signature Deion Sanders prime-time shimmy for good measure in the end zone.

Saturday’s performance was Davis’ second straight game with three touchdowns for the Bulldogs and in his last two games he’s had 14 total receptions, 236 yards and six touchdowns. When targeting Davis against Jackson State, quarterback Corey Fields Jr. went five for 13 for three touchdowns and five first downs.

“The defense was playing more physical. I wasn’t getting no calls,” Davis said. “They [were] grabbing, pulling, pushing. I had to just get physical with them back.”

Davis’ offensive performance was aided largely by the Bulldogs’ defensive prowess. S.C. State has lived all season with the pride of their program and the phrase “The dog has to be in you, not on you.” 

The Bulldogs overwhelmed No. 15 Jackson State 31-10 in front of a sold-out crowd of 48,653 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The victory extended the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s (MEAC) reign in the Celebration Bowl wins, going 5-1 overall.

“South Carolina State kicked our butts. Every way, every fashion. Out-physical us. Outthrew us. Much more discipline than us,” said Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders. “I feel we’re overconfident and overlook them as if they were just going to hand us the game.”

In their first appearance in the bowl game, the Bulldogs earned their fifth Black college football championship and their first title since 2001. The MEAC’s fifth win in six Celebration Bowls includes four consecutive titles, with North Carolina A&T owning four of the five. The Bulldogs sought to prove that even without the Aggies, the MEAC still owns the Celebration Bowl.

“It was a wonderful win for us,” S.C. State head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough said. “And to have won the game earlier in the game, and to be able to kind of stand there for the last 10 or so minutes of the game and not need to be stressed out like we always on all our games because all of our games have been close games in our league was awfully special too.”

The hype surrounding Jackson State and the swag of the Jackson State players proclaiming they were going to hang 40 points ignited a fire under the Bulldogs, something Jackson State had not seen all season.

Wide receiver Shaquan Davis of the South Carolina State Bulldogs with the Offensive MVP trophy after the college football Cricket Celebration Bowl game between the South Carolina State Bulldogs and the Jackson State Tigers

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

The Bulldogs took the slights personally.

“At first they said we wasn’t going to score 21 points offensively,” said Davis.

“We had a little free time to go out. A lot of people [were] like, ‘Oh, so you’re the team Jackson State is playing, like they never heard of [S.C. State],” Decobie Durant said of the disrespect the players felt as they headed into the game.

Jackson State’s vaunted defense tortured Prairie View A&M’s offense and Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) opponents all season, but it finally met its match. Jackson State’s defeat marked its only loss to an FCS opponent this season.

“It will be we couldn’t drive football on them. We got one drive in the whole game. All the rest of our scores came off some sort of defensive turnover where we had a short field, and we were able to punch it in that way,” said Pough. “It was really more us using Jackson’s game plan because that’s what they had done most of their games, they had taken advantage of short fields.”

The Bulldogs were three for three, scoring 21 points off of Jackson State turnovers. The S.C. State defense helped set Celebration Bowl records for the largest margin of victory with 21 points and the most interceptions with two. They also held Jackson State to the fewest rushing yards in title-game history with 19 yards. Durant, MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, earned the game’s defensive MVP, compiling a tackle, a sack, and a pass breakup.

“My hat’s off to everybody involved with South Carolina State, especially the secondary,” Deion Sanders said of Durant. “They got a corner over there that I think should be recommended for the NFL.”

The Bulldogs didn’t get a first down in their first several possessions. Fields struggled to connect with his receivers. Big-game jitters prevailed as Fields’ first completion was negated by a holding penalty, a second pass was completed for negative yardage, and the third completion was actually an interception into the hands of Jackson State corner Shilo Sanders.

A defensive strip sack by Jeblonski Green and a recovery by linebacker B.J. Davis gave the Bulldogs the spark they needed to score their first touchdown. Fields found Davis to even the score. Then a two-minute drill to end the first half ended with a field goal and the Bulldogs’ first lead of the game, one they wouldn’t relinquish.

“We always count on our defense a lot, because when they make plays, it puts us in position,” Fields said.

Fields found his rhythm rebounding to finish the game with 166 passing yards and four touchdowns against one interception.

Jackson State, usually poised in close games, lost its composure after an early lead. Following Sanders’ 7-yard strike to Keith Corbin in the first quarter would be the Tigers’ lone touchdown and they wouldn’t score again for 30 minutes. The Bulldogs harassed quarterback Shedeur Sanders, the FCS Jerry Rice Award winner, for most of the game. Sanders was sacked three times for 39 yards and the Bulldogs defense earned six tackles for loss, two interceptions, and eight quarterback hurries. On 48 dropbacks, Sanders was pressured 23 times and completed three passes for 39 yards and one interception. 

“Me just not seeing it and making the right reads to get the ball out of my hands,” Sanders said of the S.C. State defense.

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."