Bethune-Cookman wins MEAC/SWAC Challenge over Jackson State

Jackson State Sonic Boom of the South spells “NETFLIX” on the field at half-time of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. (photo by Cass Teague)

ATLANTA — It was the first-ever sellout for the MEAC/SWAC Challenge as 23,333 fans crowded into the Georgia State University Stadium in Atlanta. Jackson State took an early lead and seemed to be cruising to victory. But Bethune-Cookman took over in the second half and went on to a huge 35-15 victory in the game. The game was played to an international audience on ESPN2 on Sunday afternoon, September 1.

The marching bands were an integral part of the event, and both bands played magnificently throughout the day. They played for a half-hour after the trophy presentations to entertain fans as they left with a sparkling fifth quarter of music. Their half-time performances had been top-notch as only HBCU bands can deliver, and these units are both Top 10 ranked this season (yes, there are HBCU band ranking systems and sites).

More on the game, though. Bethune-Cookman Wildcats QB Akevious Williams passed for a 34-yard touchdown and ran for a 20 yard TD as Bethune-Cookman dominated the second half. BCU’s Trevor Merritt had a 50-yard interception return that got the Wildcats on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter. Jackson State had led 9-0 after Adrian Salazar’s PAT was blocked following a Jordan Johnson 8 yard TD and the 9-7 score revived interest in the game for many who thought it would be a JSU runaway.

Jackson scored another TD on a Jalon Jones to Warren Newman pass play (and missed another PAT) to lead 15-7. Williams’ TD run then cut BCU’s deficit to 15-14 with 5:34 left in the third quarter. Less than two minutes later, Taron Mallard’s 1-yard scoring catch and the ensuing 2-point conversion gave the Wildcats the lead for good. LaDarrien Wilson had a 5-yard rushing touchdown early in the fourth and Sam Marc sealed the deal with an amazing 96-yard fumble return.

Statistically, Jackson State had 506 total yards offense and the Wildcats had only 277, but the Tigers committed four turnovers and missed two field goals and two PAT attempts, while the Wildcats racked up 183 return yards on the interceptions and fumbles. The MEAC now holds a 10-4 lead in the series with one game canceled by inclement weather as lightning forced the early cancellation of the 2016 (no-)contest.

Back to the bands. For the halftime show and the 5th Quarter, both bands provided the crowd with a mixture of old school and new — hits from DeBarge’s “I Like It” to Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and, yes, the Marching Wildcats complemented the Lil NasX song with a horse formation on the field. But, when all else fails, just Netflix and chill, as one of the JSU formations suggested. Catch JSU’s Sonic Boom of the South, along with their football team, in Memphis on September 14, as they take on the TSU Aristocrat of Bands and the Tigers of Tennessee State University in the 30th Annual Southern Heritage Classic.

Note: Due to Hurricane Dorian, the Bethune-Cookman University football game against the University of Southeastern Louisiana, scheduled for Saturday, September 7, 2019 at 4 p.m. at Daytona Stadium, has been canceled. In accordance with university emergency management procedures, the campus was closed on Friday, August 30, 2019 and will remain closed until Sunday, September 8, 2019.