A chilly winters’ day welcomed the 2017 Celebration Bowl. This year’s edition featured two previous winners, the SWAC’s Grambling State Tigers and the MEAC’s North Carolina A&T Aggies. In its third year, it was seen as a special occasion that the winners of the first and second iterations would battle it out to see who is truly the best Historical Black College/University football program.
We had to wait until the second quarter to get any points on the board. Running back Marquell Cartwright caught an 11-yard pass from NC A&T quarterback Lamar Raynard for a touchdown.
Grambling responded with a touchdown of their own with 43 seconds left in the half. DeVante Kincade found Jordan Jones in the end-zone for the game-tying touchdown.
In the second half, Marquell Cartwright scored again after running 29-yards and diving across the corner pylon. His touchdown gave NC A&T the lead 14-7 over Grambling after the converted PAT. But Grambling’s Martez Carter brought the game level again with a 29-yard touchdown reception in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
Kenneth Melton recovered a fumble to put NC A&T at the 8-yard line. Incredibly, Grambling’s defense held A&T on all four downs and forced a turnover on downs to take the ball back on offense at their own 2-yard line. The back and forth continued throughout the fourth quarter.
The deadlock was finally broken when A&T’s quarterback Lamar Raynard scored on a QB dive through the middle just a yard away from the end zone. Raynard closed out an impressive 7 play, 56-yard drive that took all of 1:04. With the score 21-14, Grambling had 33 seconds to make a miracle happen. They marched downfield with efficiency but without any timeouts, their options were limited and failed to score again.
North Carolina’s Marquell Cartwright ended up winning the Offensive MVP Award. Cartwright ended with 20 carries for 110-yards and a touchdown on the day. Picking up where Tarik Cohen (MVP of their first Celebration Bowl victory) left off no less. Cohen is currently playing in the NFL.
The final score was NC A&T 21, Grambling State 14. So the inaugural winners of the Celebration Bowl end up victorious in its third edition to stake its claim as the best football program in the HBCU-verse.
Photo: Hakim Wright