Many who follow HBCU football, and in particular, Jackson State football, had this date circled on their calendars.
But not because it was homecoming for the Tigers — an event that drew close to 60,000 fans and even rapper Snopp Dogg — wearing JSU gear.
Its match-up against Campbell was supposed to be one where Jackson State would finally be tested. This was going to be the game that would prove just how good — not SWAC good but FCS good — Deion Sanders and his group really were.
Leading up to the game, the was a tinge of anticipation that Jackson State was ripe for defeat, considering they “hadn’t played anybody.” Never mind JSU was 6-0 and ranked in the top-10 in major FCS polls or that the Tigers had gone 17-2 over its last 19 outings.
Just dominating the SWAC wasn’t enough to convince some.
For critics, Jackson State needed to prove its mettle against a non-HBCU Division I school. Campbell, with its No. 1 FCS recruiting class led by former NFL player Mike Minter, provided hope that Saturday would be the day of reckoning for the feel-good national story that Jackson State had become.
Then the game happened.
While Jackson State did not blow up the scoreboard on offense, the defense, led by Aubrey Miller and his tenaciousness, had Camels’ quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams under pressure on each of his 28 dropbacks.
That tough defensive front then held Campbell to just 110 yards rushing and stifled the up-tempo attack.
Lamagea McDowdell led the Camels with 48 yards on nine carries.
Campbell was held scoreless in the second half until Williams connected with Julian Hill on a 13-yard TD pass with 25 seconds remaining in the game.
Though Shedeur Sanders had gotten all the Heisman headlines for leading one of the nation’s stop-scoring offenses, it was Delaware State transfer running back Sy’Veon Wilkerson who battered his way for 116 yards on the ground scored the game-deciding TD in a 22-14 win that moved JSU to 7-0.
The outcome shouldn’t change how Jackson State is perceived. They’re still equally or more talented than any opponent that shares the same field with them. JSU is still by far the best team in the SWAC, HBCU football and the overwhelming majority of schools in the FCS, too.
Will this Jackson State team face Campbell-like tests throughout the remainder of its schedule? Sure. But Coach Prime and Co. are still deeper, tougher and more skilled to overcome whatever challenges lie ahead.
Maybe next week against Southern — leaders of the SWAC West and longtime rival — will knock off the bullies in Jackson. How about Texas Southern, Alabama A&M, or Alcorn State? Or maybe, just maybe, the budding JSU football dynasty is inevitable, and it’s something needed to be accepted.
Jackson State doesn’t need to be tested. As they’ve proven against Campbell, and over the last two seasons, the Tigers are the test.