but amongst his teammates, kicker alejandro mata’s presence is known. it’s unique. and his corridor of reputation educate, deion sanders, knows that better than anyone. rewind six days ago. in the tigers’ locker room on the dolphins’ tough rock stadium, sanders known as on his freshman kicker to translate his congratulatory message to the team for an all-around dominant overall performance against the rattlers.
mata, who speaks each english and spanish, spoke back the call and even transcribed sanders’s request to play his theme track, a famous song from rapper mystikal entitled “right here i am going.” however on saturday, in jsu’s sixteen–three win towards a gritty tennessee kingdom group searching for payback from the tigers’ domination in remaining yr’s southern background conventional (shc), mata become the maximum treasured piece within the tigers’ offense for more than 43 minutes in what can be the final conflict among the ancient hbcus. “they name unique groups unique,” sanders brought.
jsu’s fireworks display that it produced on offense in opposition to famu become now not on the menu this week like the scorching smells of southern barbeque tapering off of grills, pots and tents in the air across the tailgating section outdoor of simmons financial institution liberty stadium. as a substitute, as fifty one,351 fanatics trickled in the venue all through the first half of of the game, they witnessed tsu strike first with a discipline intention, mata’s first area purpose try blocked and jsu’s santee marshall fumble the ball ultimately quarter that changed into recovered by using tennessee kingdom for a touchback.
it become now not the suitable manner jsu hoped to begin. and for tennessee kingdom head teach eddie george, things were no longer ideal. however knowing that shedeur sanders—who posted video-game manufacturing against famu’s secondary per week ago—became no longer carving up tsu’s protection like a seven-on-seven exercise drill, it was a huge load of self belief for the group of the mythical nfl strolling back. “we knew it turned into going to be a bend but don’t destroy mentality,” george stated after the sport.
in jsu’s first half-hour of motion, it changed into a traditional case of pinnacle-notched red area protection from tsu. mata converted two brief-distance field desires (27 and 28 yarders) that got here on two jsu offensive drives that blended for 25 performs and 111 yards whilst the use of 10:11 of sport time within the 2d zone.
like tsu’s protection turning in well timed stops, jsu’s protective unit stifled tsu’s offense after its first force of the game, retaining tennessee kingdom to a mixed seventy six yards and four punts as it trailed jsu, 6–3, at halftime. in a chain that has ended in each teams combining to average a complete of extra than 56 factors of their preceding meetings when you consider that 2010, this 12 months’s conventional turned into one-of-a-kind.
searching for to add points and to break the sport open, jackson nation marched eighty yards on 14 plays to tennessee country’s 1-yard line on its establishing force of the second 1/2. tsu had introduced what might have been the sport-changing second with a aim-line stand in opposition to jsu. however, jackson nation pressured tsu to a short three-and-out earlier than the usage of a balance of runs and passes, putting in mata for his third area aim of the contest (nine-3).
but tennessee country changed into nevertheless in putting distance. the tigers wanted a prevent. they recorded one when davion nash stripped the ball from jsu’s shane hooks after a trap from sanders in tsu’s territory. with one score wished, the entirety appeared simple for tsu until it wasn’t.
tennessee state, a group that had previously rushed for 290 yards against fcs jap washington a week in the past, gained minimal yardage at the ground. consequences forced tsu to transport backwards and jsu touchdown one among its 8 sacks in opposition to tsu quarterback draylen ellis turned into almost the final bow on the game.
that is until sanders dropped again and connected with willie gaines on a 27-yard strike down the left sideline for a landing on the following power, giving jsu the 16–three gain and setting the game away for exact. “we had been one play away, one power away from possibly going up one point in the sport,” george stated. “i ought to remind myself that we have 22 new guys on our team. we are nonetheless studying every other.”
jsu held tsu to two rushing yards in the sport and minus-5 yards on 27 possessions within the 2d half alone. but as sanders entered the information conference after the game with shedeur, protective cease nyles gaddy, who posted 4.five of the crew’s general of 8 sacks, and mata (the game’s mvp), he become grateful to go away memphis with the win.
“no longer taking anything away from teach george,” sanders stated. “they’re no longer equal group we played last yr. we experience like we didn’t play our quality soccer.”
in accounting for this system’s requirements incorporating sanders’s mantra, the tigers did no longer play their pleasant yet observed their manner to another early victory this season. all wins are not quite. this one turned into clearly not.
but with the win comes the elephant inside the room—the future of the southern historical past traditional. whilst the game has been performed in view that september 1990, jackson nation terminated its settlement to the traditional in february. the agreement for the historical conflict turned into no longer set to cease till 2024.
as lovers parked on sidewalks, side streets and at restaurant parking plenty to go into the stadium confines, many donned shirts representing the enduring conventional and their faculties. even more, as two ladies crossed the road in a rush to satisfy up with their friends, they wore shirts that study, “the grand finale” throughout the again.
and whilst george and sanders understand the pageantry and lifestyle that includes hbcu classics, in addition they need their programs to advantage better financially. whilst requested if he wanted tsu to preserve gambling within the shc, george offered that tsu’s destiny within the event turned into no longer left to him. “i just play the groups which are at the schedule,” he said.
as for sanders, like george, he can simplest make guidelines. “we were given to do higher business … whether or not we do it in jackson [mississippi] or tennessee, i’m precise. if you get the enterprise right, we’ll do it here. … i’m no longer coming down here and then want to forestall [to] borrow some gas cash on the way returned. … i’m looking out for the first-class interest of our kids.”
while shc founder fred jones to start with created the weekend of festivities that includes the shc, a few human beings doubted if it might nevertheless exist nowadays. “are you certain that you may pull this off,” jones recalled. “but i constantly felt strongly that we had the right ingredients for the conventional. …i’ve by no means met a songwriter who didn’t accept as true with that a track that he or she wrote was now not going to be a number one hit. … i continually felt like it [achievement of event] could happen.”
however more than whatever, as jones says the shc’s future isn’t his selection, he hopes the event will maintain its “circle of relatives culture” going forward if it remains. “this game is like thanksgiving,” jones said. “it brings generations of people collectively. …you can’t positioned a price on that.”
if the closing shc has been played, the series ends with a defensive bout, every other rich installment of hbcu culture and a full-size overall performance from a special kicker.