Photo: Celebration Bowl/Facebook

South Carolina State stud defensive back Decobie Durant and his teammates took advantage of rare free time this week leading up to the Celebration Bowl and visited an Atlanta area mall.

It was among all the holiday shoppers where they confronted the candid reality of being decided underdogs versus Jackson State in a city that was dubbed “Jacklanta” because of the large red and blue-clad JSU contingent invading Atlanta.

“I was in the mall with my teammates, and a lot of people were like, ‘so y’all the team that Jackson State is playing,'” he said. “They hadn’t even heard of South Carolina State. We were just looking at each other like ‘Oh, okay.’ We already knew we were underdogs.”

Also read: ‘We’re still here’: MEAC coaches revel in continued dominance over SWAC rivals

Playing with a chip on its shoulder, and without the pressure of an expected victory weighing heavily on them, the Bulldogs — led as always by its stout defense — held Jackson State to 196 yards of total offense, including 57 yards and just five first downs after the first quarter in a dominant 31-10 win as a 10.5-point underdog.

The conversations all week had been overwhelmingly in favor of Deion Sanders and what it would mean for JSU football and HBCUs when, not if, the Tigers won, especially amid the program signing No. 1 overall high recruit Travis Hunter away from Florida State.

Saturday was supposed to play out with Jackson State running roughshod over the Bulldogs in all phases of the game. After all, the Tigers hadn’t lost to an FCS opponent all year while South Carolina State — despite going unbeaten in MEAC play — carried only a 6-5 record and was part of a conference that only featured six football-playing schools.

The game turned for South Carolina State in the second quarter when defensive end Jablonski Green strip-sacked Jerry Rice Award winner Shedeur Sanders with 3:25 left in the second quarter. Three plays later, quarterback Corey Fields Jr., hit Shaq Davis on a 5-yard TD pass.

Photo: Christina Merrion

After forcing a JSU punt on the Tigers’ next possession, the Bulldogs embarked on a 10-play, 36-yard drive that ended on a Gavyn Zimmerman 27-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs an unexpected 10-7 lead at the half.

South Carolina State continued to stifle the Tigers, shutting down its offense, particularly its passing game, forcing a pair of second-half interceptions that set up touchdown drives to expand its lead.

Freshman punter Dyson Roberts, described by head coach Buddy Pough as the “MVP of the game” used a rugby-style approach to pin the Jackson State offense deep, forcing long drives instead of short fields. He celebrated his special team successes with various demonstrative poses afterward.

Photo: Christina Merrion

By the end of the third quarter, the Bulldogs were up on the mighty Tigers 24-10. And when Fields found Davis on a leaping 16-yard TD grab to cement a 9-play, 93-yard championship-winning drive to go up 31-10, everyone inside Mercedes Benz Stadium had found out what South Carolina State was all about.

“As I’m speaking right now, my phone is vibrating like crazy,” said Durant, the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, about the phone calls and text messages he received after the win.


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