As the rain took over the city of Atlanta on a dreary Saturday morning, deep in the downtown area was a celebration of football, family and fun. In the two weeks leading up to the Celebration Bowl, it was shaping up to be a coronation for the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions, the 11-1 Jackson State Tigers. Led by head coach Deion Sanders, Jackson State dominated the SWAC, going undefeated in the league. However, the play of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions, the South Carolina State Bulldogs, quickly reminded the sellout crowd, the television-viewing public, that what matters between the white lines, matters most.
In the first quarter, Jackson State scored the opening touchdown and quickly established their hold on the game. Penalties also hurt South Carolina State but they were able to run the ball.
Going into the second half, South Carolina State was able to swing the momentum their way and come out the second half blazing. The Bulldogs scored 24 unanswered points and made the game a laugher on their sidelines during the fourth quarter. Jackson State might’ve been the favorite to win this game, but the MEAC Champions, the South Carolina State Bulldogs came to town with a winning mindset.
“Well at first, they said we weren’t going to score 21 points (on them) offensively, so we had to come out and prove them wrong…another thing I’d say is that we had a little free time to go around Atlanta,” South Carolina State defensive back Decobie Durant explained. “I was in the mall with my teammates and the people were saying, ‘so ya’ll the team that’s playing against Jackson State.’ Like they had never heard of South Carolina State. So that was big to us because we already knew we were the underdog.”
Shaquan Davis from South Carolina State University caught three touchdown passes, setting a new Celebration Bowl record.
The Celebration Bowl’s attendance increased by 32% compared to 2019’s game which featured North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State. Saturday’s attendance was 48,653 and we still do not know if the kids enjoyed watching Mickey Mouse on the field to begin halftime. However, Disney donated $25,000 to each university’s scholarship fund.
As the game began to close, most of Jackson State’s side of Mercedes-Benz Stadium was cleared out. It was not the ending that Tiger fans wanted, but SC State won 31-10, setting a bowl record for margin of victory.
“Well, it was a wonderful win for us, but I still have to give some credit to the entire Celebration Bowl staff,” South Carolina State head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pugh said. It’s been a good week for us, and we’ve had a wonderful time here and to cap it off with this win today was the cherry on top of the sundae. All our games have been close games in our league so for us to win this was awfully special.”