February 7, 2023

The Deion Sanders era at Jackson State ends with a loss as JSU falls to NC Central in the Celebration Bowl.

The Deion Sanders era at Jackson State ended with a loss.

In Sanders’ final coaching game at JSU before moving to Colorado on a full-time basis, Sanders’ Tigers were upset in overtime by NC Central 41-34 in the Celebration Bowl, the HBCU national championship.

The loss marked Jackson State’s second consecutive season in which the Season Celebration Bowl ended in defeat.

This year, JSU entered the game undefeated — but NC Central sent the coach to Boulder with a heartbreaking loss.

NC Central was the sharper team early and jumped out to a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter. That lead wouldn’t last long. Jackson State jumped out to a 14-10 lead, then led 21-17 at halftime.

With Deion’s son, Shediur Sanders, leading the way at quarterback for JSU, it looked like the Tigers had taken control. But NC Central didn’t back down. The Eagles outscored Jackson State 9-0 in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 26-21 entering the fourth quarter.

A perfectly executed fake punt was instrumental in NC Central’s comeback.

Early in the fourth, Sanders hit former No. 1 recruit Travis Hunter for an 18-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 27-26 with 11:25 left.

It was the first of three epic touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Following that, NC Central marched 73 yards in 11 plays while taking nearly seven minutes off the clock to go ahead 34-27 with 4:31 left.

At that point, Jackson State had to rally once again. And the Tigers leaned on the Sanders-to-Hunter combination to keep their Celebration Bowl hopes alive.

On the final play of regulation, Sanders delivered a beautifully thrown touchdown pass to Hunter on fourth-and-10 from the 19. Hunter caught the pass as time expired to miraculously send the game into overtime.

Once the game reached overtime, NC Central was undeterred by allowing the game-tying touchdown. The Eagles offense opened overtime with a touchdown when quarterback Davious Richardson scampered in for a yard out.

Jackson State had to punt to keep the game alive and NCCU advanced to the 1-yard line. However, on third-and-goal from the 1, Hayden Hagler knocked down the game-tying score. Then on fourth down, Sanders felt the pressure and his toss to the end zone fell incomplete.

As it was incomplete, NC stopped to pull the central offset.

For Deion Sanders, it was a disappointing way to end his three-year tenure at Jackson State. The Tigers finished with a 27-6 record during that span along with two SWAC championships. However, as the Sanders move to the Pac-12, back-to-back Celebration Bowl losses are sure to hit.

Sanders has been pulling double duty since being officially announced as Colorado’s head coach on Dec. 3. The announcement came after JSU won the SWAC title game.

Since then, Sanders has been going back and forth from Jackson to Boulder as he tries to make the Colorado roster. With his duties at Jackson State now complete, Sanders’ move will be to Colorado on a full-time basis.

Sanders has already said Schedure will accompany him to Colorado. It remains to be seen how many Jackson State players will follow Sanders to Colorado.

Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders screams during the first half of the Celebration Bowl NCAA college football game against North Carolina Central, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)