The Celebration Bowl consisted of back-and-forth scoring from both teams, but North Carolina Central was able to outlast Jackson State with a 41-34 overtime win Saturday afternoon.
The Eagles (10-2) got the ball first in the extra period and capitalized quickly after starting running back Latrell Collier’s 19-yard run to set them up at the 3-yard line. Shortly after, junior quarterback Davius Richard punched it in on a quarterback sneak for what proved to be the game-winning score.
The Tigers (12-1) had a chance to avoid their first loss of the season with a touchdown of their own. Instead, tight end Hayden Hagler dropped an open pass in the end zone on third down at the 1-yard line.
Jackson State was unable to convert on fourth down on the next snap.
Overall, the Eagles ran the ball effectively in the second half, outgaining the Tigers 152-7 after halftime. Most significantly, Collier scored the go-ahead 7-yard touchdown to give the Eagles the 34-27 lead with just four minutes remaining, before the Tigers’ heroics.
“That’s what we’re gonna do – we run the football,” North Carolina Central coach Trei Oliver said. “We’re a physical football team, and it starts up front. So, we let our guys run that rock today. We saw some things that were open, and we were able to take advantage of them.”
The aforementioned heroics came when Jackson State receiver Travis Hunter caught a 19-yard pass in the end zone as time expired, and the extra point sent the game to overtime.
Oliver wasn’t ready to concede in a tightly contested game, as he continued to pound away with trickery as the game ebbed and flowed for both teams. As such, after a long drive midway through the third quarter, he dipped deep into his playbook and called a fake-punt play on fourth down that succeeded to extend the drive.
The drive resulted in a 12-yard touchdown connection from junior quarterback Davius Richard to sophomore receiver Quentin McCall to retake the lead at 23-21 with just under six minutes remaining in the quarter.
“I thought the fake punt changed the course of the game,” Oliver said. “We talk about situations all the time, and we have to be prepared for every situation when it comes to this game. So that was a play we’ve been running for a while, and the guys executed.”
N.C. Central 41, Jackson State 34 (OT)
Richard was dominant in the win, doing it all on offense for NCCU. He completed 15 of his 20 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, while carrying the ball 17 times for another 98 yards and a score.
“We knew they like to bring pressure,” Oliver said. “We knew they were a very physical football team, and they were athletic. So, that’s why we had more of the quarterback design runs to hit the plus-one -- to get an extra hat in the run game.”
The first half included back-and-forth scoring as both teams fought for control headed into the break.
It started when NCCU got off to a quick 10-0 start behind huge-gain plays in the first quarter. First, Richard found senior receiver E.J. Hicks for a 42-yard completion set up a field goal on their first drive.
On the second drive, a 21-yard quarterback keeper by Richard was followed by a trick play in which Hicks found Richard for 30 yards. Those two plays set up a 5-yard touchdown QB keep by Richard to take the two score lead.
“That wears on the opponent, especially on their psyche, and you gotta keep people on their heels,” Oliver said of the impact of big plays on a close game.
The Tigers (12-1) quickly responded a minute later after sophomore quarterback Shadeur Sanders delivered a pass to senior tight end DJ Stevens for the 24-yard score, bringing the score to 10-7.
On their first drive of the second quarter, the Tigers took the 14-10 lead after an 85-yard reception by freshman Kevin Coleman. He finished with a game-high 137 receiving yards and one score in the loss.
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