Bowl mania kicked off with the second annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, GA. This year’s participants were the MEAC Champion North Carolina Central Eagles and the SWAC Champion Grambling Tigers.

Today’s game marked the fourth meeting between the two schools and their initial trips to the Celebration Bowl. The Tigers come into the game after a 27-20 victory over Alcorn State in the SWAC Championship.

Numbers wise during the first half, the teams were evenly matched. On the field and in the stands, NCCU definitely carried the momentum.

Grambling's Donovan McCray fails to knock North Carolina Central's Tarrance Wells off his game. (Hakim Wright)
Grambling’s Donovan McCray fails to knock North Carolina Central’s Tarrance Wells off his game. (Hakim Wright)

Grambling had a dual threat at the quarterback positioned named Devante Kincade. He had elusive speed and would not hesitate to go long. If Kincade couldn’t find anyone downfield, he looked extremely comfortable scrambling with the ball.

The Tigers main threat was tailback, Martez Carter. Carter had the speed and agility to keep the NCCU defense guessing. The Tigers used him in the backfield, out wide, and as their return man. By halftime, Carter had amassed 102 total yards.

NCCU had their own standout at quarterback in Malcolm Bell. Bell rushed for 32 yards on 7 attempts and went 10 for 15 for 116 yards passing with 1 interception.

North Carolina Central's Jaquell Taylor leaps to make the tide-turning interception. (Hakim Wright)
North Carolina Central’s Jaquell Taylor leaps to make the tide-turning interception. (Hakim Wright)

At halftime, they were fairly even in numbers with NCCU totaling 159 yards of offense while Grambling notched 184. The defensive leaders on both sides were Reggie Hunter (NCCU) with 5 tackles and Jameel Jackson (Grambling) with 4.

With 9:14 left to go in the 3rd quarter, running back Martez Carter put up the game’s first touchdown with a 32 yard rush for Grambling. With the converted extra point, Grambling took the lead 7-3.

Grambling found themselves in a 3rd and 22 situation because of an offensive holding call. Had it not been for the penalty, they would’ve had a first down because of Verlan Hunter’s O’Dell Beckham-esque one-handed grab that lifted the stadium out of its seats. But they weren’t able to convert and were forced to punt.

North Carolina Central Wide Receiver LaVontis Smith goes long for the first down. (Hakim Wright)
North Carolina Central Wide Receiver LaVontis Smith goes long for the first down. (Hakim Wright)

Grambling was able to increase their lead by 3 points thanks to a Jonathan Wallace field goal late in the 3rd Quarter.

And with hopes dashed to bits and 2:14 left in the game. Malcolm Bell was forced out of the pocket and threw the Hail Mary of his life. He must be an exemplary youth because he found Quentin Atkinson in the back corner of the end-zone.

As the crowd erupted in celebration, NCCU fans were immediately brought back to reality with the announcement of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of 15 yards. With that penalty, NCCU’s attempt was then blocked by Grambling’s Joseph McWilliams.

Celebration Bowl
A handoff is made to Grambling Running Back Jestin Kelly. (Hakim Wright)

With a game that struggled to get any footing, the final three minutes of the game were full of excitement.

NCCU would not give up, even after the disappointment of the blocked PAT, they came out for kickoff and initially, recovered an onside kick. But that too, to the chagrin of Eagles fans, was ruined by a penalty.

The Tigers were able to hold their ground and keep the game interesting. Their stand on defense was the key to their victory.

The Grambling Tigers won the 2nd Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl 10-3 over North Carolina Central University.

  • 31,096 today’s attendance
  • Reggie Hunter NCCU Celebration Bowl Record with 9 tackles.
  • Grambling’s 20 First Downs is a Celebration Bowl Record

The game had a slow start but ended on a high note. The final score again was 10-3 in favor of Grambling.

And with that, let the games (bowls) begin!


-Jon J.

Photo: Hakim Wright

Leave a Reply