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Deion Sanders' Sons Game-Winning Plays Were the Perfect Heroics to Tigers Division Title

With SWAC title hopes on the line, the Sanders brothers came up with big plays in the nick of time to help JSU win its first division title since 2013.

BATON ROUGE — As players from Southern and Jackson State stretched during pregame warmups, the stage for the BoomBox Classic was set—two blueblood Southwestern Athletic Conference programs with a history of tradition in a battle for bragging rights.

Beyond the battle on the gridiron, the epic back-and-forth battle between the bands—SU's "Human JukeBox" and JSU's "Sonic Boom of the South"—intensified an already raucous environment inside A.W. Mumford Stadium. 

But for Jackson State, this game—with SWAC title dreams attached to it—was an emotionally-charged contest well before the referees blew the first whistle. Tigers head coach Deion Sanders, who had been dealing with complications from a foot surgery coupled with reports of him being a favorite in the TCU's search for its next head coach, was released from the hospital after missing the last three games.

As 25,379 fans filed into the stadium after sitting in standstill traffic that started nearly a mile away, Sanders weaved through his players during their warmup drills on his wheelchair, bringing a sense of rejuvenated energy. However, after the blue and yellow fireworks went off and the smoke cleared the field, that energy seemed to fade.

JSU, needing one victory to secure the SWAC East and to punch its ticket to the conference title game, found itself trailing 14–7 with 129 yards of offense, sitting at one of three on third-down conversions, a lost fumble and getting outplayed in time of possession by more than seven minutes at halftime. It was the start that Tigers interim coach Gary Harrell hoped to avoid in the game.

While still managing to secure victories in Sanders' absence, JSU had been plagued by slow starts. On Saturday night, that trend continued and the Tigers' perfect season in conference play was in jeopardy.

After two stalled drives by both teams to start the second half, JSU quarterback Shedeur Sanders—who was looking to connect with Keith Corbin—found Jaguars' Jakobi Jones instead for his second interception of the game. The miscue led to an SU field goal and a 17–7 Jaguars lead.

"We played several defensive coverages, we tried to eliminate the explosive plays by the receivers and making him [Shedeur] find his targets pre-snap, not post snap," SU head coach Jason Rollins said in the postgame news conference.

Southern (4–6) led the game for nearly 58 and a half of the 60 minutes. Tigers defensive back CJ Holmes came up with the second biggest defensive play of the game on third-and-19, limiting SU's Devon Benn to 11 yards and eight shy of a first down with 8:24 to play in the fourth quarter.

Shedeur—who finished with 260 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions—put together a series of passes to Peytton Pickett, Malachi Wideman and Corbin on the Tigers ensuing drive. Those receptions set up a 13-yard touchdown to Wideman and a momentum shift in the game.

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Another failed Jaguars offensive possession paved the way for Shedeur—even with JSU's offense committing two big penalties—to find Wideman on a 50-yard touchdown reception in the right corner of the end zone, giving JSU the 21–17 advantage and the game-sealing score.

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In what Rollins described as four-quarter, blow-for-blow boxing match, he hoped for a different outcome in the game. But the interim head coach did not shy away from the fact that his team failed to execute offensively in a critical part of the game.

"At the end of the day, you have to make plays and win your one-on-ones," Rollins said. "We couldn't get a score when we needed and get a stop at the end. Disappointed for our guys and fans, we couldn't get over the hump, this one is on me."

With one more chance on fourth down from JSU's 42 yard line, Jaguars quarterback Bubba McDaniel heaved a long ball toward the left sideline and was picked off by Shilo Sanders with 19 seconds remaining in the game. The JSU crowd roared and players let out emotions of excitement.

As time ran off the clock, Sanders shared words with Rollins and others while maneuvering through the sideline.

"He just said congratulations, great game, be safe and good luck," Rollins said.

It was a celebration for the Tigers despite a brief scuffle between the two teams that broke out immediately after the game. JSU (9-1, 7-0 in SWAC) clinched its first division title and SWAC championship game appearance since 2013 and the program's eighth division title in school history.

JSU had not won a game against SU since '13. From the spring 2021 season of battling with COVID-19 protocols, to Sanders' surgery and all the memories of losing seasons over the last eight years —excluding the 2018 and the spring 2021 campaigns—JSU football is back in familiar territory.

A territory that alums have waited to see for a long time, a moment that Tigers athletic director Ashley Robinson remembers from his childhood and one that Sanders promised the fanbase when he became the 21st head coach of the program.

"Let's go man, this is what we do, we built for this man," Corbin said during the team's celebration after the game. "I Believe."

The Tigers now await their in-state rival Alcorn State (6–4) in the regular season finale next Saturday. With the Braves keeping their championship hopes alive after defeating Prairie View (7–2) 31–29 on Saturday, there is a possibility of a potential JSU-Alcorn rematch in the SWAC title game if the Braves defeat JSU and the Panthers lose to Mississippi Valley State in their season finale.

Until then, let the madness of November college football continue.

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