The NCAA didn’t want to admit this.
The Florida Gators were not ready to admit they would play a mid-major, private university at their home stadium. So they attempted to block it from happening.
After all, Jackson State didn’t have an AP Top 25 ranking or a lot of big-time accolades. And they hadn’t had a winning season in six years, so it seems just a matter of time before they flop again.
But Deion Sanders made sure this happened on Saturday.
When the Grambling State Warhawks failed to reach the I-AA playoffs last week, the head coach hired Deion Sanders, star NFL defensive back, announcer and coach, to help them.
So on Saturday, the Warhawks’ star receiver, Terrance Lee, became the first player in NCAA history to catch 15 passes in three consecutive games. They defeated Georgia Southern 20-19. On Saturday, Jackson State even broke the record of most points in an NCAA game.
Jackson State football is not just about the stars. Lee made his mark Saturday, winning the first rushing battle with a senior from Ole Miss. But he is the star too, not to mention the two more stars: Six-foot-5, 230-pound junior quarterback Tevin Jordan, whose team-leading 1,344 passing yards were enough to over-shadow him, and Sanders.
Sanders doesn’t provide extra pressure; he gives it.
“It’s a blessing to be here, to be the quarterbacks’ favorite coach,” said Jordan. “I don’t know what happens next, but this is something that I’ll never forget.”
And coach Dave Robinson, who runs his complex-but-simple offense – where the front office keeps the stats of plays in order of success – thinks everything that has happened this season had at least something to do with Sanders.
“Deion is a special person,” Robinson said. “He brings the game to a whole new level. He is a real skilled athlete, but one of the more competitive people I’ve met in my life. He demanded excellence from us and we responded.”
Most notable, says Robinson, was the Warhawks’ conference championship and playoff appearances. Robinson coached at Grambling State for 28 years before taking over at Jackson State three years ago.
“I’m very, very proud of how these young men have handled the season, especially the way they played in the SEC-North championship game against Auburn, the way they played against Georgia Southern, the way they finished the season,” Robinson said. “As coaches we are always looking for a way to improve our program and they have done that.”
Despite being the surprise team of the league, Jacksonville, Fla., the Warhawks have been able to lead until the final seconds against Southern, Auburn and Georgia Southern.
“I’ve never had a team play that hard. I’ve had a few that were very aggressive, but not like this,” Robinson said. “This is a highly motivated team.”
Now, the third and final I-AA Conference title game will decide who goes to the national playoffs. The Warhawks are excited about their chances. They would like to lead from the beginning and not have to chase the other teams.
And Sanders isn’t bitter at the Gators for not admitting this would happen.
“They haven’t admitted it, but this is a great opportunity for us,” Sanders said. “If you play fair and right, things are going to work out well for you.”
The Warhawks left Gainesville and left for Jackson, Miss., knowing this would be their only chance.
But considering the last time the two schools played each other, there will be a lot of this.
“We beat them two years ago at their stadium, so they’re welcome,” Robinson said. “We can have a fun weekend.”