Saturday, December 21, 2019

North Carolina A&T racks up points on points in a historic Celebration Bowl

Photo Credit: John Amis- Atlanta Journal Constitution 

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

ATLANTA— In a game that started slow, there was no shortage of offense in the Celebration Bowl. Nearly every offensive record was broken, if not shattered, throughout the course of the afternoon. The North Carolina A&T Aggies (9-3, 6-2 MEAC) claimed their third consecutive HBCU national championship with a 63-44 victory over the Alcorn State Braves (9-4, 6-1 SWAC). 

With 107 total points, the teams annihilated the previous Celebration Bowl record of 75. North Carolina A&T broke their previous record of 41 points scored as well.

“That’s one thing that we really emphasize is the brotherhood. I don’t really know why most black men don’t like using the word love. A lot of us don’t, but it’s a word that we use freely. We do have love for each other and when you express it, it’s shown. And that’s why you can see it - We do express it,” North Carolina A&T head coach Sam Washington said of what makes his teams bond so tight-knit. “It’s a never quit attitude. Just keep fighting. Keep fighting and good things will happen and those kids, they do just that.”

On their second drive of the contest, Alcorn State was forced to punt, but quickly regained possession when Makail Webb forced a fumble on the return. When the Braves recovered at the A&T 34-yard line, the continued their drive— capping it off with a 28-yard field goal to open the scoring.

Both offenses heated up in the second quarter and continued to trade blows. In the opening minutes of the second quarter, the Aggies answered the call. Kylil Carter went deep and beat the double-team to find Elijah Bell for a 53-yard touchdown pass. On the following drive, Alcorn struck back with a 36-yard touchdown pass of their own when Felix Harper found Chris Blair on a fade route on the right sideline. Not to be outdone, North Carolina A&T scored from 59 yards out when Carter found Zachary Leslie for a score.

North Carolina A&T linebacker Jacob Roberts stepped in front of a pass from Harper and returned it to the Alcorn State 5-yard line. The Alcorn State defense put together a spectacular stand inside their own red zone, forcing the Aggies to settle for a 26-yard field goal. 

The explosive offensive performances continued after halftime with the two squads combining to score on each of the first seven drives. Jah-Maine Martin opened the second half with a 75-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage. The Braves defense had held the FCS’ leading rusher to just one yard in the first half. 

Yesterday, Martin told the media that he speaks with former North Carolina A&T Aggie and current Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen every single day. Throughout the season, Martin has broken several of Cohen’s school records including single-season rushing touchdowns and single-season total touchdowns.

Alcorn State launched their second half scoring efforts with a six-yard quarterback keeper from Felix Harper. 

Carter continued his record-setting day with a massive second half. With touchdown passes of 20, 43, and 73 yards, Carter rewrote nearly every passing record in Celebration Bowl history. This afternoon, Carter set the Celebration Bowl record for passing yards, yards per completion, and passing touchdowns. He also tied the record for most completions in a game.

The Braves used more of a mix of rushing attacks and aerial strikes. Ron Hunt scampered through the heart of the Aggie defense from 23 yards out. Through the air, Harper found Raidarious Anderson from 35 and Nigel Wood from 13.

The two programs combined for 49 points in the third quarter— shattering the previous Celebration Bowl record of 27 points in a quarter.

In the fourth quarter, Harper found the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the game and fifth overall. After a high snap from Alcorn State, the North Carolina A&T defense scooped the miscue and returned it 98 yards for two points.

For good measure in the closing minutes, the Aggies added another four-yard touchdown run from Martin, his second score of the game.

During yesterday’s press conferences, Coach Washington had mentioned the teams’ philosophy of “making chicken” several times. “We stopped the run. We did protect the football. I don’t know so much about the kicking team but I thought we did enough,” joked Washington. “The kids played hard and they played to win.”