The North Carolina A&T Aggies defeated the Alcorn State Braves 24-22 to win the 2018 Celebration Bowl. HBCU fans packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium to cheer on their favorite conference team (MEAC or SWAC) but ultimately, the day belonged to the Aggies.
Today’s Celebration Bowl victory marks the third for NC A&T out of the Bowl’s four years in existence, essentially making them kings of the competition. But getting to play in the Celebration Bowl is no easy feat.
“From last year, from everything going so smoothly, going 12-0. This year I had some struggles personally. It was times when I doubted myself but my teammates, they stayed on me,” said Aggies quarterback Lamar Raynard. “I even doubted myself at times, like I said, God is so good. I want to thank these guys (teammates) and I want to thank North Carolina A&T for giving me a shot and playing quarterback here.”
North Carolina A&T defeated Alcorn St. in the inaugural Celebration Bowl in 2015, Grambling State in 2017, and Alcorn St. once again this year. One thing that can be said about the competition which can’t be said for all bowl games is that every edition has been competitive:
2015 – North Carolina A&T 41, Alcorn State 34
2016 – Grambling State 10, North Carolina Central 9
2017 – North Carolina A&T 21, Grambling State 14
2018 – North Carolina A&T 24, Alcorn State 22
As you can see, no competition has ever been won by more than seven points, a remarkable statistic. With scores so tight, there had to be pivotal moments in each matchup. A bit of magic to tip the scale one way or the other, and this year, that was the case for the Aggies.
With 51 seconds left in the third quarter, the MEAC champs were up 17-16 over the Braves. The play of the game would come seconds later after the kickoff when wide receiver Malik Wilson would run back his fourth kickoff of the year. The difference-making 77-yard kickoff return would push the lead to 24-16 (after the PAT) and the Aggies never looked back.
It’s a good thing A&T has such a great quarterback because they had absolutely zero ground game. Their total yards on the ground mounted to 38. Compare that to the Georgia Tech-like yardage accrued by Alcorn State which was a staggering 328. The bulk of that was thanks to running back De’Shawn Waller. Waller rushed for a game-high 167-yards on 19 attempts with his longest run reaching 54-yards.
Alcorn State had a triple offensive threat in running back De’Shawn Waller, wide receiver Juan Anthony, and quarterback Noah Johnson. But when Johnson came up limping in the fourth quarter, his scrambling capability was shot. Beforehand, he had amassed 127-yards with his scrambling capability. But with the defense adjusting to his lack of mobility, passes became errant without many rushing opportunities.
With just two losses over the past two seasons, the victors have a lot to look forward to next season and have an opportunity to continue a truly amazing run in the MEAC. Hats off to the seniors for an incredible third Black College Football Championship.
Photo: Hakim Wright