If the trend continues, the Celebration Bowl may soon need a new name -- the “N.C. A&T Bowl.”
The fourth Celebration Bowl kicks off at noon Saturday (TV: ABC, on WSB Channel 2 Action News) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and North Carolina A&T will make its third appearance in the game. The Aggies won the game in 2015 and last year.
North Carolina A&T, champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, will face a familiar foe in Alcorn State, champions of the Southwest Athletic Conference. The Aggies and the Braves were the featured teams in the inaugural bowl, played in December 2015.
While Alcorn State (9-3, 6-1 SWAC) will close the season in Atlanta, the Braves also opened the season here, playing Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Yellow Jackets won 41-0.
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One of the key games this season for Alcorn State was in a losing effort. The Braves went to five overtimes in their 28-25 loss to Alabama State at home Oct. 6. Their other loss was to FBS school New Mexico State 52-42, which was the Braves’ 10th consecutive game before their bye week.
Alcorn State secured its place in the Celebration Bowl with a 37-28 victory at home against Southern on Dec. 1 in the SWAC Championship game.
“It was a great season for us this year,” Alcorn State coach Fred McNair said at news conference in Atlanta earlier this month. “We battled the whole season. We went 10 straight games without even a bye week.
“That was kind of challenging to us, and I think the Alabama State game, we kind of fought against the wall there, but the guys did a great job of bouncing back from that and coming on strong and winning the SWAC championship on our own grass.”
North Carolina A&T (9-2, 6-1 MEAC) began the season with a home victory against Jacksonville State, which qualified for this year’s FCS playoffs, and followed that with a 28-23 road victory against East Carolina, an FBS school.
Aggies coach Sam Washington was asked at the Celebration Bowl news conference about the expectations placed on his program.
“There’s something about the A&T Aggies,” Washington said. “Expectations there at that place, at that university, are very high. … We have the resources and the people in place to be successful, so why not? We put in the time and the effort, and the determination is there. We tell our kids to expect to do well.”
This year’s game features Alcorn State quarterback Noah Johnson and N.C. A&T defensive end Darryl Johnson, two of the four finalists for the Black College Football Player of the Year award, which will be announced Feb. 16 by the Black College Football Hall of Fame and is presented by the Falcons.
Darryl Johnson is a junior from Kingsland who graduated from Camden County High. He already was chosen MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. He has recorded 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss this season and has 47 tackles (29 solo), seven quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
Noah Johnson is a junior from Tampa, Fla., and is the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year. Johnson has rushed for 930 yards (7.4 per carry) and passed for 2,079. He has scored nine touchdowns rushing and passed for 15. He also has completed 64.1 percent of his passes and has averaged 173.2 yards per game passing and 80.0 rushing.
The Celebration Bowl annually features the champs of the MEAC against the champs of the Southwest Athletic Conference. North Carolina Central won the MEAC title in 2015, and Grambling State represented the SWAC in 2016 and 2017.
Here is some important information regarding how to follow the action Saturday:
Time: Noon ET
Date: Saturday, Dec. 15
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
Television: ABC (WSB Channel 2 Action News locally).
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