ATLANTA — Shedeur Sanders was nearly perfect on Saturday. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
The sophomore quarterback finished 30-of-40 for 349 yards and four TDs as Jackson State took North Carolina Central to the wire in a 41-34 overtime loss in the Celebration Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Sanders was one pass away from potentially securing the first Celebration Bowl victory in program history.
Sanders left the field – for likely the last time for the Tigers – as one of the greatest quarterbacks in JSU history.
Deion Sanders, Shedeur’s father and coach, left the stadium no longer a part of the program. The third-year coach finished his final game at Jackson State and must focus on recruiting for Colorado. Shedeur Sanders will likely enter the transfer portal within the next few days. The father-and-son duo will be reunited.
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The Celebration Bowl showed how Deion and Shedeur Sanders will be remembered in their final moments at Jackson State. Shedeur Sanders delivered with the game on the line in regulation and nearly completed a miraculous comeback. Deion Sanders came up short again before bolting for a Power 5 program.
Deion Sanders goes 0-2 on the biggest stage
Deion Sanders and Pro Football Hall of Famer Robert Brazile shared a moment together following the game. Brazile, a former Jackson State standout, was someone Deion Sanders needed to face.
‘With Robert Brazile, that’s like a big brother,’ Deion Sanders said. ‘That’s like an uncle, and I feel like I let him down. I called a few people before I accepted the job to let them know what I was contemplating, and he was one of the ones because I wanted his blessing.
‘I sincerely love him, and I feel as though I let him down in that. That’s gonna be with me for the rest of my life.’
Deion Sanders has reshaped the history of the Tigers football program. He’s delivered consecutive SWAC championships and brought ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ to Jackson for the first time. However, both seasons lacked a storybook ending.
South Carolina State embarrassed the Tigers 31-10 to end last season, but this year’s Celebration Bowl was attenable. However, Deion Sanders invited a major distraction into the program when he was named Colorado’s coach following the SWAC championship game earlier this month.
Deion Sanders was split between two programs over the last two weeks amid speculation over players leaving with him. That undoubtedly impacted game preparation and level of detail from Deion Sanders and the players.
How many people on the Jackson State sideline already had one foot out the door at kickoff?
Shedeur Sanders carries the Tigers offensively
Deion Sanders was blunt about his team’s performance following the loss.
‘Our defense didn’t show up today,’ Deion Sanders said. ‘By any means. Offensively, we got it done and I’m still replaying that second-to-last play in overtime that we didn’t come up with. It don’t seem like that was real. It’s kind of surreal.’
Offensive coordinator Brett Bartolone called the perfect play. A play-action fake that completely fooled the Eagles’ defense and led to a wide-open Hayden Hagler. Shedeur Sanders delivered the pass and Hagler dropped it.
The final pass from Shedeur Sanders sailed into the back of the end zone on fourth down. He stared down Kevin Coleman Jr. with the game on the line, and for good reason. Coleman led the team with seven catches on eight targets for 137 yards and a touchdown.
However, Shedeur Sanders regrets snapping the ball.
‘We weren’t able to get the back out – motion all all the way out – where they would have got confused on responsibilities and coverage,’ Shedeur Sanders said. ‘Personally, I feel like I should have just took the penalty and had a chance to get the right play exactly how we wanted instead of rushing things.’
That might be Shedeur Sanders’ only mistake, because he was the catalyst for Jackson State’s offense. He delivered an 85-yard TD strike to Coleman along with 18- and 19-yard TDs to Travis Hunter while the Tigers trailed.
Shedeur Sanders’ best throw of the game came at the end of regulation as he hit Hunter perfectly for a 19-yard TD to force overtime. It was the defining moment of Hunter’s career at Jackson State.
‘When I threw the ball, all I have to do is put air under it,’ Shedeur Sanders said. ‘He’s going to do the rest. It wasn’t really hard. I just threw a fade.’