“Happy with the win, but … critical as a coach,” Deion Sanders, Jackson State University’s head football coach, left the 32nd annual Southern Heritage Classic game preaching the need for his Tigers to become “greater than.”
JSU accelerated from a 10-7 halftime lead and sprinted to a 38-16 victory in front of 46,117 fans of “The Classic” at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
“I am striving for perfection and I want these guys to reach their goals and reach the pinnacle of their dreams and ambition,” said Sanders during his post-game media appearance.
“The only way to do that is to be “better than.” We have to be greater than, we have to be more competent than other schools out there, because we don’t get the same opportunity as they do and you know what I am talking about.”
The Southern Heritage Classic is an annual cultural celebration that serves up an array of events and activities. This year, the game clearly was the main course, with the added enhancements of NFL Hall of Fame inductee Sanders coaching against Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star running back Eddie George.
It was the first “Classic” for both coaches.
“SHC, we thank you. It was wonderful,” Sanders said, taking note of what he called “a level of commitment to excellence. … The hospitality was exceptional coming on the heels of the Orange Blossom Classic (which pitted JSU against Florida A&M). … We had a wonderful time. We came up a day early so we could enjoy the city of Memphis. Everything was first class.”
George, reflecting after the game, said, “It was pretty awesome. … The atmosphere was great. The history of both schools. I just wished I could have walked away with the victory.”
TSU’s George-coached Tigers are winless after two games.
“It was not the ending that we wanted. The first half we fought hard. In the second half, I am very disappointed with the special teams. We are making strides in that area with two blocked punts. Our guys worked hard,” said George, turning to the positives.
“We cut down on our penalties and we only turned the football over once. This will not be an overnight success; it is going to be a long process. You look at Jackson State (and) where they were in the Spring; that is where we are now … in the terms of getting the right people in the building and creating a culture.”
TSU found the play of JSU quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who three touchdowns, too much to overcome.
“Quarterback play was spectacular. Shedeur was efficient,” said George. “When you have a quarterback that can make plays like that, you can go a long way.”
Sanders – yes, the son of JSU’s head coach – broke two SHC records: best passing completion percentage, 75 percent; most completed passes, 30. He was also third in Classic history with 362-yards. His performance netted him MVP honors.
JSU got their fans out of their seats in the first quarter with a 14-yard pass from Sanders to Joshua Lanier. TSU tied the game in the second quarter with a 75-yard drive capped off by quarterback Deveon Bryant’s one-yard run.
The second half was controlled by JSU’s Tigers but they were not able to put the game away until Warren Newman returned a punt 81-yards to put the game out of reach (31-10) with 7:29 remaining.
“He never complains,” Sanders said of Newman. “He practices his butt off. He is barely ever injured. He was one of the guys that was here in 2019 and beyond. He sees the changes and transition and the possibilities. He does not take it for granted. He knew how it was when. He is a good person.”
TSU had won six straight Classic games before JSU (2-0) prevailed in 2019. With Saturday’s win, JSU won back-to-back games in the series for the first time since stringing together victories in 2010-11. The 2018 game was washed out by a torrential storm and the COVID-19 pandemic forced last year’s cancellation.
Sanders fielded a question about his team’s improvement over the first two weeks of the season.
“The defense did not improve from week one to week two,” he said. “Offensively, we did. We opened up a little bit. (No.) Two (his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders) got a little more comfortable and we protected him a little more.
“They presented some challenges on defense. We had to be more patient to take advantage of them.
“Coach George and Tennessee State started off great. For him to have just started and what they accomplished tonight is really good. It is like how our spring was.”
George referenced his team’s improvements from week one.
“The penalties, we had 18 last week. This week, we had 5 today. No delay of games. I can live with that,” he said.
“Jackson State is an explosive team. We are still learning who we are in the process as coaches and players. The effort was there, and they kept fighting till the bitter end.”