JACKSON, MISS. – The sun had begun to set on the east side of Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday evening. The largest home crowd for Jackson State this season in the horseshoe-style venue—one that was standing-room only with 58,892 people earlier in the afternoon—started to dwindle on Alcorn's side as JSU (10–1, 8–0) was knocking on the door of its final touchdown in the Soul Bowl.
When JSU and Alcorn State (6–5, 5–3) take the field, it's a huge battle for bragging rights to see which team owns the state of Mississippi. It's the battle of bands—the "Sonic Boom of the South" and the "Sounds Of Dyn-O-mite"—coupled with what is always a physical bout on the gridiron.
In the heated rivalry that dates back to 1946, the two schools had played 73 consecutive times until the coronavirus pandemic prompted the Southwestern Athletic Conference to postpone its 2020 fall sports and championship games. The SWAC elected to hold an unprecedented spring 2021 season.
However, Alcorn—which moved to the SWAC West due to the conference's realignment—decided to opt out of the spring season due to COVID-19 and forfeited all of its games.
After the Boom put together a halftime show that honored Tigers head coach Deion Sanders in his first home game back since being released from the hospital, the Tigers carried that celebratory momentum into the second half of 75th edition of the contest to earn a 24-10 victory, its first win in the rivalry since 2017.
After JSU added a 31-yard touchdown pass from Shedeur Sanders to Shane Hooks with 25 seconds to play in the third quarter, the Tigers began to embrace the moment. The Tigers could smell the taste of what would be a victory and an undefeated conference record for the first time since 1995 under then-head coach James Carson.
Despite JSU starting the game slow offensively—much like the program had done over the last four weeks—the Tigers left no doubt that they were ready to seal the victory against the Braves. Shedeur took the snap, immediately looked to his right and heaved the ball to the back corner of the end zone to find Keith Corbin III for a two-yard touchdown pass, effectively sealing the win and sending a sea of blue and white pompoms shaking throughout the stadium.
"We knew we just had to score one more time," Shedeur said. "Our defense is amazing. I said that during SWAC media day, our defense is different. Y’all just now believing it, y'all seeing it. All we got to do is put up some points."
Shedeur, who finished with 297 yards off 28-of-39 passing for three touchdowns in the game, moved into third place—behind JSU's Robert Kent and Casey Therriault—for the most touchdown passes in a single season with 28.
As the Boom played "I Got 5 On It" in celebration of the touchdown, Tigers athletic director Ashley Robinson—wearing his blue jacket dubbed with the 1400 Klub" on the back—grabbed his daughter and made his way from the north end zone to the JSU sideline to shake his coach's hand.
Sanders has completed one part of his mission—a winning season and a SWAC Championship game appearance—from when he took the podium on Sept. 21, 2020 to become the 21st head coach of JSU's football program. Even with Sanders missing three games due to being hospitalized from complications from a foot surgery and rumors swirling about his potential candidacy for the the TCU coaching job, he said he never doubted his goals for the program.
"We believed from day one and we knew we would be sitting right here in front of you [media] in this moment," Sanders told the media after Saturday's win. "We never doubted that, we are resilient, we never flinched."
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While Sanders—who completed his second regular season as the Tigers head coach—was happy about the victory, the success of the program goes beyond winning games and competing for SWAC titles.
Before the start of the 2021 season, Sanders preached the concept that he not only wanted to restore JSU to prominence, but restore HBCU football.
“If you give us the resources, we’re going to prove there is a highway that takes you from Jackson State all the way to the NFL," Sanders previously told Sports Illustrated.
In a 14-month span, Sanders's vision has come to life, bringing in the school's highest-ever rated recruiting class—one that marked the first time an FCS program's recruiting class ranked in the top 100—generating a wide net of television exposure with games and advertisement deals as well as uplifting other HBCUs and expanding his reach in the Jackson community.
Saturday's win was another stepping stone on how Sanders hopes to continue his journey of changing the narrative around HBCUs but more specifically the landscape for JSU football.
"What is a win to us at JSU, if we win the championship—and we are going to do that—OK, and no one goes pro, I don’t feel like we won," Sanders said. "If our graduation rate has not increased, did we win? It’s not just games, we are trying to change the game in all facets."
Jackson State will now play on its home field against Prairie View on Dec. 4 in the 2021 SWAC Championship game for a spot in the 2021 Celebration Bowl on Dec. 18.
And for Sanders, the Tigers' mission is not done until the final game has been won.
"We are happy [about Saturday's win] but we are not finished," Sanders said. "I am not a celebratory-type person that goes in and claps. ... We still got some work to do. We want to be dominant. We are in the middle of the sentence, we are trying to get to the exclamation mark."
Additional Notes from the Game
- Jackson State notched its fourth 10-win season and tied for its best record in program history in the victory against Alcorn.
- Shedeur—who entered Saturday's game with the eighth most passing yards in a single season at JSU—moved to sixth on the list (2,971), passing former quarterbacks Mark Washington (2,786) and Shawn Gregory (2,870). The freshman also moved to fourth on the list in pass completions (248) in a single season, surpassing both of Kent's 2001 (245) and 2002 (231) records.
- JSU's defense remains in first place in points allowed (13.8 points) and passing yards allowed (158.8) and second place in total yards allowed (258.3) and rushing yards allowed (99.5) in the conference.
- The Tigers' defense also moved to 10-0 when allowing their opponents less than 20 points.
- The last time Prairie View played in the SWAC title game was in 2009 when the Panthers defeated Alabama A&M.
- JSU and PV last played each other in 2019 when the Tigers defeated the Panthers in 38-35 double-overtime victory. The matchup between the two teams in the spring 2021 season was cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing in the Tigers' program.
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