The MEAC/SWAC Challenge returned for its 13th season in a new location and with new foes vying for bragging rights.
After years playing in different cities, the annual game moved to Georgia State Stadium as the North Carolina Central Eagles squared off against the Prairie View A&M Panthers.
The Eagles represented the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Panthers represented the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
Prairie View came away with a 40-24 win and showcased a high-powered spread attack, led by junior running back Dawonya Tucker.
Tucker carved up the Eagles’ defense for 267 yards on 25 carries. He was elusive and accounted for a lot of the Panthers’ 646 yards of offense.
North Carolina Central put up a valiant second-half effort. The Eagles scored 17 of their 24 points in the half, but their run was too late. Tucker broke the game open with a 50-yard touchdown to seal the victory. The Panthers improved to 1-1 as they rebounded from a heartbreaking loss in the season opener.
“Today we knew to keep playing. …,” Tucker said. “I feel like we it touched more this game to keep playing no matter how much we get up.”
Junior quarterback Jalen Morton engineered the Panthers’ offense early. He led three first-quarter scoring drives to help Prairie View jump to a 20-0 lead.
Morton scored the game’s first touchdown as he scampered into the end zone from 14-yards out. He later hooked up with Markus Hardy for a 15-yard touchdown, before setting up a Caleb Broach touchdown with a 23-yard pass to Jeffery Rector.
Morton finished the game 19-for-35 passing with 264 yards and two touchdowns. Rector finished with four catches and 104 yards. Hardy had four catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns.
“Our motto is to spot it (the play),” Morton said. “When we spot it, we make plays and we execute it.”
The Eagles struggled early against a rugged defense. The Panthers’ front seven made life difficult for Eagles quarterback Chauncey Caldwell. The sophomore finished 24-for-42 for 269 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Eagles opened the game punting on their first five possessions.
In the second quarter, North Carolina Central found a rhythm. After Prairie View added a field goal, the Eagles marched down the field on a 10 play, 72-yard drive.
Running back Jamal Currie-Elliott capped the possession by punching in a 1-yard touchdown. He finished with 39 yards on seven carries. Backfield mate Isaiah Totten rushed for 60 yards.
In the second half, the Eagles looked like a rejuvenated team. Down 23-7, they came out firing on all cylinders. Caldwell got hot as he found Sonnie Richardson on a 51-yard touchdown and Daeshawn Stevens on a 13-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
The Panthers’ lead dwindled to 26-24. With 8:55 left in the game, Morton connected with Hardy on a 20-yard touchdown. Tucker ended it on the ground.
“They demonstrated a fighting spirit, and I was pleased to see that,” Eagles coach Granville Eastman said. “I was encouraged, and it is something to feed off going forward.”
The MEAC is now 9-4 in the series. The SWAC had won two consecutive games.