By: Raynard Churchwell
On December 21st, fans from all over the South will be coming to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia to witness the 5th annual Celebration Bowl. The game features the champions of the two most prominent conferences of historically black colleges and universities. This year’s Celebration Bowl will be played between the North Carolina A&T Aggies of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Alcorn State Braves of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
Tale of the Tape
North Carolina A&T – With Florida A&M being ruled ineligible for post-season play, North Carolina A&T obtained their 4th appearance in the Celebration Bowl. The Aggies have won each Celebration Bowl they have appeared in and look to continue the trend on Saturday. The Aggies come in with a 6-2 record in the conference and an 8-3 record overall. The Aggies possess one of the highest-powered offenses in the nation. Their 35 points per game rank 15th in the FCS, and their 237 rushing yards per game ranks 11th. The offense will be riding on a lot of momentum going into the Celebration Bowl as they have obliterated opposing defenses in their last two games. The Aggies put up 47 points on Bethune-Cookman, and 54 points on in-state rival North Carolina Central.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Aggies have also been a stout group all season. Their 18 points allowed per game ranks top 10 in the FCS, and the rush defense ranks 4th with them only giving up 76 yards per game. Their pass defense has also been good, only giving up 194 yards per game.
Alcorn State – The Braves won the SWAC title game over Southern earlier this month to secure their 3rd appearance in the Celebration Bowl. However, they will look to change their fortunes, as they have come up short in their previous two appearances. Alcorn State comes in with a 6-1 record in the SWAC and a 9-3 record overall. The Braves bring in a high-powered offense of their own as they have averaged 32 points per game, which ranks 26th in the FCS. The Braves offense has also been on a hot streak in their last few games as they have scored 34, 41, and 39 points in their current 3-game win streak. Alcorn State runs a balanced offense as their 158 rushing yards per game ranks 55th, and their 244 passing yards per game ranks 39th in the FCS.
The Braves defense has played lights out this season only allowing 19 points per game, which ranks 12th in the nation. Their pass and rush defense have been equally as good as they rank 30th and 31st in the FCS. The defense also has a knack for creating turnovers as the team has 21 interceptions on the season.
Players to Watch
North Carolina A&T – Running Back Jah-Maine Martin has been the catalyst for the Aggies offense all season. He has rushed for 1,136 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns, and an astounding 8.4 yards per carry. Martin is a great mix of speed, power, and elusiveness. His play this year also earned him a First Team All-MEAC conference selection. His success will be pivotal for A&T if they want to come out with a victory this Saturday. Another player to watch is defensive end, Jermaine McDaniel. The sophomore has been a consistent pass rusher all year and has five sacks on the season. McDaniel also received postseason honors as he was named Second-Team All-MEAC for his great play this year.
Alcorn State – Quarterback Felix Harper was named as the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year this season, and he has been a problem for nearly every defense he has faced. The Fairburn, Georgia native is very accurate throwing the ball completing 60 percent of his passes on the season. Harper has also recorded 2,613 passing yards and an impressive 30 passing touchdowns this season. Also a threat in the run game, he has recorded 4 rushing touchdowns on the season as well. Another player to watch for on the Braves is Junior Defensive Back Qwynnterrio Cole. Cole was named as an All-SWAC First Team Selection this year. He has recorded 78 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, and an outstanding 5 interceptions.
Prediction – I expect a high scoring affair between the two teams. In the end, I believe that North Carolina A&T’s running game will be too much for the Braves defense to handle. Also, I believe the NCA&T’s experience playing in the big game will factor in as well.
SCORE: North Carolina A&T 42 ALCORN STATE 30