JACKSON, Miss. – Thirty-two years after he was drafted No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 1989, Deion Sanders will return to Atlanta to coach his first bowl game as a college football coach.
Jackson State prevailed with an 27-10 win over Prairie View in the SWAC Championship game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
It's the first conference championship for Jackson State since 2007. It's the first 11-win season in school history.
And it clinches Jackson State's first berth in the Cricket Celebration Bowl, the de-facto historically black college national championship game between the champions of the two Division I HBCU football conferences, the SWAC and the MEAC.
This year, there will be a new champion regardless of who wins. The Celebration Bowl was established in 2015, and four of the five games have been won by North Carolina A&T, which recently left the MEAC for the Big South conference. Grambling State won in 2016. The game was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Jackson State will take on South Carolina State on Dec. 18 (noon, ABC) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Here are three observations from the Tigers' win against Prairie View A&M (7-5).
Deion Sanders ditches the wheelchair
For the first time since he returned to action against Southern on Nov. 13, Sanders was on the sideline without a motorized wheelchair.
The second-year coach was back on a scooter, as he had been for several games before toe surgery that caused him to miss three games and be hospitalized for nearly a month.
It's a positive sign that Sanders' health is continuing to improve. He said Wednesday on his podcast that he had lost nearly 30 pounds while he was in the hospital. He said he weighed 177 pounds and that he normally weighs 205.
Now he's back and looks like he's gaining strength each week. He's also posted videos of himself in the weight room on his Instagram page.
Isaiah Bolden's 91-yard kick return swung the momentum
Jackson State was trailing 10-7 in the second quarter. The Panthers had momentum after a half-back pass from Ty Holden resulted in an early lead, and receiver Jailon Howard breaking out Sanders' signature dance celebration.
But then Isaiah Bolden fielded a kick at the Jackson State 9-yard line, sidestepped a defender, and turned on the jets. The SWAC's top return specialist showed his speed, racing down the sideline for a 91-yard score and the Tigers never trailed again.
Bolden came into the game leading the SWAC in kick return yards with 500 in eight games. The TD ties Bethune Cookman's Darnell Deas for the SWAC lead with two.
Balanced pass-rush gets the job done
Rushing the passer has been a major strength for Jackson State all season, and Saturday was no different.
The Tigers registered four sacks, each by a different player.
The pressure was heavy and consistent, never allowing Prairie View quarterback Jawon Pass to get comfortable.
By the end, it had worn the Panthers down and allowed the Tigers secondary to take care of business.
James Houston, who is among the leaders in FCS for sacks, opened the lead up to double-digits on an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. Cam-Ron Silmon-Craig added a pair of interceptions,
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Deion Sanders, Jackson State win first SWAC championship since 2007