Photo: Southern Heritage Classic

It’s been a little over two years since Tennessee State University and Jackson State University have met for their annual football showdown in Memphis, Tennessee at the Liberty Bowl. Fans from both sides are confident that their respective teams can win this year’s matchup.

September 9, 2017, was the last meeting between these two proud programs. Jackson State lost a heartbreaker to Tennessee State after failing to connect on a field goal attempt that would’ve given Jackson State its first win over Tennessee State since 2011.


While Tennessee State enjoys the current six-game winning streak it has over Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Classic series, the team is hoping to experience better days in Ohio Valley Conference where it the team finished fifth in the conference last season with a 4-5 overall record.

“The team is looking forward to this week going into SHC. It’s always a great game to go to in Memphis. A lot of people, great crowd, and atmosphere. I’m just excited to get out there and get after Jackson State,” said head coach Rod Reed during his weekly press conference.

For Jackson State, the offseason was filled with big moves. John Hendrick was elevated from interim head coach to head coach, the program benefited from big 4-star wide receiver and quarterback signings and T.C. Taylor returned as quarterback coach.

However, below-average quarterback play, turnovers, and unfinished drives have given Jackson State a familiar 0-2 start heading into the game Saturday.

“You know Tennessee State has really had their way against us in the last seven or eight years, but we’ve been drilling this into our kids that it’s time to get back to playing good football against Tennessee State,” Hendrick said during in a press conference. “We had an opportunity to win in (2017) but fell short on a missed field goal. And I believe if we play well we can win Saturday.”

Tennessee State will head into Memphis with a 1-1 record that includes a hard-fought win against Mississippi Valley State and a great showing in a losing effort against Middle Tennessee State. However, this team has yet to put it all together to take that next step up.

Jackson State comes into the classic winless with losses against Bethune Cookman (15-36) and South Alabama (14-37), but the eye test tells you JSU has a stout defense that caused three turnovers against a well-coached South Alabama squard. The offense is one big game from turning the corner to better times in Jackson, Mississippi.

The impact players to look forward to for Tennessee State on offensive are senior runningback Seth Rowlands and senior wide receiver Chris Rowlands.

Rowlands was named OVC Co-Offensive Player of the Week after he lit the field on fire against Middle Tennessee State, catching for 202 total yards, and two touchdowns from two different quarterbacks.

Senior Seth Rowlands had an efficient day rushing last week for 96 yards on 11 carriers, which was only outshined by his partner in crime Te’Kendrick Roberson who rushed for 98 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown.

Jackson State’s impact players are runningbacks Keshawn Harper, Jordan Johnson, and Lineback Keonte Hampton.

Keshawn and Johnson have rushed for 255 yards combined in two games — which is nothing to write home about. But this duo is capable of breaking big runs that will keep defenses honest if given more opportunities to run the ball.

Hampton leads JSU’s stout defense with 15 tackles over the past two games, which is almost passing his freshman mark in a season of 23 tackles.

Stakes just got bigger for both teams in Week 3 ahead of the Southern Heritage Classic.

For JSU, starting the season at 0-3 is not an option for its contend or bust aspirations. Hendricks will be looking to get the offense turned around, the injured on defense healthy, and to get a big win rival Tennessee State for the first time since 2011. Doing so would build confidence for the Grambling, Southern, Prairie View, and Alcorn gauntlet later in the season.

Tennessee State knows this is business as usual for their guys heading into Saturday’s matchup. Reed has to find the next man up on a beat-up defense and lean on his senior-heavy offense to outscore JSU. Tennessee State looks to get its respect back in the Ohio Valley Conference by winning the games it’s supposed to win.

The stage is set. The two teams are underdogs in their respective conferences, and the rivalry that took a hiatus due to bad weather in 2018 will be renewed in the 2019 Southern Heritage Classic.

David Johnson
David Johnson is a special contributor to HBCU Sports

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