After a long and hard-fought regular season, the SWAC Championship is here. SWAC West champion Prairie View A&M will visit SWAC East champion Jackson State with a conference title and a Celebration Bowl berth on the line.
It's been over a decade since either the Panthers or Tigers last won SWAC titles, with crowns coming in 2009 and 2007, respectively. Come Saturday evening, one program's championship drought will end as a new SWAC champion will hoist the trophy.
Prairie View A&M enters the SWAC championship on a three-game losing streak since reeling off six straight victories in the middle of the season. The Panthers will look to starting quarterback Jawon Pass to get the offense back to its winning ways. Pass was electric at points earlier this season, tossing 16 touchdowns on the season.
Jawon Pass had the tough job of taking over for Lamar Jackson at Louisville.— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) September 30, 2021
On this 59-yd TD run the transfer QB sure did look like the former NFL MVP.
Ark Pine-Bluff 3 📺 ESPNU pic.twitter.com/c0Ksa6tnvF
He's joined in the backfield by freshman running back Jaden Stewart. In his first year, Stewart has taken over the lead back role, scoring seven touchdowns and averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Prairie View A&M will need its backfield to play its best if it wants to find success against the SWAC's top defense.
On defense, Prairie View A&M has three players with all-league accolades. First-team defensive lineman Jason Dumas leads the front seven with 7.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hurries. He'll be tasked with applying pressure to an efficient Jackson State offense.
Defensive backs Drake Cheatum and Darius Campbell earned first and second-team accolades, respectively. In the SWAC Championship, the two have to shut down the conference's second-leading pass attack. If Cheatum, who has five interceptions this year, and the Panther defense can force turnovers, Prairie View A&M can keep this game from becoming a shootout.
Jackson State enters the SWAC Championship game led by the conference's coach of the year, Deion "Coach Prime" Sanders. The offense is led by his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, a freshman phenom. In his first year under center, Sanders earned SWAC Freshman of the Year, second-team All-SWAC and was named a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award.
TOUCHDOWN, TOUCHDOWN TIGERS!!— Jackson State Football (@GoJSUTigersFB) October 23, 2021
The two freshmen, @ShedeurSanders and @mightymal13 connect again on a 23-yard touchdown for their fourth time today. Extra point is good!
Drive: 7 plays, 35 yds 3:06
Q4 6:30 | JSU 42, BCU 12 #IBelieve x #BleedTheeBlue x #ProtectTheeBlock pic.twitter.com/FycWddDdG1
Yet, Sanders' great season didn't happen alone; a group of talented skill players, including wide receivers Keith Corbin and Malachi Wideman, have been pivotal to the Jackson State offense's success. Corbin is the go-to receiver for the Tigers with 63 catches, while Wideman and his 11 touchdowns make him a big-play threat on the outside. In total, the Tigers have five receivers with at least 20 catches, 300 yards and two touchdowns this season, making the Jackson State offense a difficult one for opponents to gameplan against.
On the other side of the ball, the Jackson State defense has been dominant this season. The Tigers have three first-team and two second-team All-SWAC defenders, highlighted by SWAC Newcomer of the Year James Houston. As a Buck Buchanan Award finalist, Houston has been a terror off the edge, finishing second in the FCS in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss.
FUMBLE!!!!— Jackson State Football (@GoJSUTigersFB) November 6, 2021
James Houston is a force to be reckoned with 😤
JSU will take over at the Texas Southern 43-yard line!
Q4 7:24 | JSU 27, TXSO 21#IBelieve x #TheeILove x #BleedTheeBlue x #ProtectTheeBlock pic.twitter.com/3SqMKEXKvH
The front seven also features defensive lineman Antwan Owens and linebackers Aubrey Miller and Keonte Hampton, who together create a physical defense that makes every point hard to come by. Throw in first-team All-SWAC return man Isaiah Bolden, and the Tigers have a team that can win in all three phases of the game. Jackson State will need to win these phases once again to walk away with its first SWAC crown in 14 years.
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The last time Jackson State faced Prairie View A&M, the game was decided in double-overtime by a field goal. If the latest meeting between the two schools in the SWAC Championship game has a similar, thrilling finish, it will be one for the ages, especially in one of the best FCS environments at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.