The 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl will feature two new teams next Saturday as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions, the South Carolina State Bulldogs face off against the Southwestern Athletic Conference champs, the Jackson State Tigers.

Even though both conferences played football in the spring, it has felt great for everyone to touch Black College Football once again. 

The South Carolina State Bulldogs started the 2021 season 1-4, with notable losses to SWAC teams Alabama A&M and Florida A&M. But once the Bulldogs entered MEAC play, they found their stride. 

With only one loss in their last six games, South Carolina State cruised into next Saturday’s Celebration Bowl riding a strong wave of momentum, going 5-0 in the league. The Bulldogs beat North Carolina Central 27-24 on October 30th to secure their 18th MEAC championship.

“We’ve played lots of games in Atlanta here and we played over the old Georgia Dome,” said Oliver “Buddy” Pugh, head coach of South Carolina State. “But this is the first time I’ve set foot into Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And I can tell you that I’m often excited to be here. It’s been a long year. It’s been a long time. We’ve been going through all kinds of pandemics and what have you. This is our 16th ball game, in this calendar year. If you can imagine that.” 

Sophomore receiver Shaquan Davis tallied 769 receiving yards, which led the MEAC. South Carolina State averaged 22 points per game. On defense, Decobie Durant is the MEAC Defensive Player of the year. Durant, a 5’11”, 180 pound, defensive back from Lamar, S.C., is considered one of the MEAC’s top pro prospects, accumulating 37 tackles, including 29 solo during his final season. Durant also led the MEAC in passes defended with 14 and tied for second in interceptions with three. Two of his interceptions came against Clemson on Sept. 11.

“So, you know we didn’t see a lot of attempts against him this past year because people kind of sort of got the got the message you know that this might not be the guy that you go with attack on,” Pugh said.

The Jackson State Tigers finished the season 11-1 with their lone loss being a 12-7 defeat to Louisiana-Monroe. They ran the gauntlet within Black College Football, led by Pro Football Hall of Famer, head coach Deion Sanders. 

Jackson State went undefeated in the SWAC as they went on to secure their first conference championship since 2007. While Sanders was unable to travel, assistant head coach Gary Harrell spoke to the assembled media today.

“You know, we believe that we are destined to be champions,” said Jackson State assistant head coach Gary Harrell. “With the leadership of Coach Prime, and speaking of Coach Prime, just know he would love to be here but he couldn’t attend due to a prior engagement and he could not be here.”

Harrell also added Jackson State has not played their best game yet. 

Wide receiver Malachi Wideman is the number one target for Jackson State freshman quarterback, Shedeur Sanders. Wideman is 6’5” and has NFL quality athleticism. In the 2021 season, he tallied 12 touchdowns. 

President of Jackson State University, Thomas K. Hudson, expressed his excitement to us as his Tigers participate in the Celebration Bowl for the first time.

“We are excited to be a part of the Celebration Bowl,” Hudson said. “This is a beautiful opportunity for our student-athletes. They have worked hard all season, inside and outside the classroom, and this is an excellent reward for their athleticism. It also exposes Jackson State University to a broader audience and a new fan base. We are definitely looking forward to the big game and all associated events.”

On Tuesday, December 7th, South Carolina State announced they’ve sold out their allotment of tickets. At the time of publication, there are an estimated 1,000 tickets remaining.  The 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl is shaping up to be the biggest, boldest and grandest display of Black College Football’s culture and tradition in the de facto HBCU National Championship game. The 200 level inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium has now been made available for purchase

“There are 27 games that are played between us in the New Year’s Six, which and we’re in the top tier of that in terms of total live audience,” explained John Grant, CEO of the Celebration Bowl when asked . “Obviously we want to have the sellout, but you know, viewership streaming, linear, all that matters. And it’s just a great platform for the institutions and a tremendous platform for the student athletes and, this is our Super Bowl.”

For added historical perspective, the Cricket Celebration Bowl was announced at the College Football Hall of Fame in March of 2015. In the first year, North Carolina A&T defeated Alcorn State 41-34 in front of 35,000 fans at the Georgia Dome. Since then, only Grambling has been the only other SWAC school to appear in the game. 

Toe meets Leather at noon inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the game will be televised nationally on ABC Network.

As the majority of the viewing public prepares to watch head coach Deion Sanders match wits against South Carolina State’s Oliver Pugh for the first time, Grant does not overlook the contributions that previous coaches made in Black College Football.

“God creates a path and everything happens as it should, in the time that it should,” Grant explained. “Coach Prime came along, but the stage was already here. You know, so the stage was already here. And so what we’re doing now is just saying ‘welcome to the stage for Jackson State this year.’ And it’ll be the same thing for whoever makes it next year.

“The intent for us is recognizing that we are stewards of the moment that we’re in and with the view of ‘how do we build and institutionalize this sort of 100 years from now?’ You know, it can it can be said that this is ‘the granddaddy of HBCU bowl games,’ that hopefully there will be more because of what we’ve done today. We’ll be here to to make that statement about us. And what we did in this moment.”

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