Last Updated: 2018-12-14
For the third time in four years, the North Carolina A&T Aggies are in the Celebration Bowl. For the first time since the inaugural Celebration Bowl in 2015, the Aggies will play the Alcorn State Braves. The Aggies are 2-0 in the Celebration Bowl, with a 41-34 win over the Braves in the first one and a 21-14 win over Grambling State last year. This season, the Aggies are favored by either 7.5 or 8 depending on the sportsbook with a total of 47.
This really is a great celebration, pardon the pun, for the achievements of the top teams from the historically black colleges and universities in the SWAC and MEAC. It is a chance for these student-athletes to play on the big stage at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and represent their conferences and the African American communities in and around their schools.
NC A&T comes into this year’s Celebration Bowl with a new head coach in Sam Washington. Washington was the defensive coordinator for NC A&T, so he simply got a promotion, but it has been a pretty strong hire. The Aggies have not allowed more than 23 points this season and they allowed that to East Carolina, the only FBS team that was on the schedule.
Surprisingly, NC A&T did lose to Morgan State and Florida A&M at home, but managed to make it to this bowl game anyway. Senior quarterback Lamar Raynard was 24-of-44 in last season’s game and had a fine season this year with a 16/5 TD/INT ratio. Marquell Cartwright, who was the Offensive MVP of last year’s Celebration Bowl, needs 108 yards to get to 1,000 for the season. Jah-Maine Martin was a more explosive runner with 7.4 yards per carry, so the Alcorn State defense will have to deal with the feature guy and also the change of pace guy in this one.
While the offense can move the football and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, the Aggies remain a defense-first team. They only allowed 148 points during the season and just 2.7 yards per carry. Opponents only converted 27 percent of their third down opportunities against this NC A&T defense and only scored a touchdown on 35 percent of red zone trips.
When it mattered most, the NC A&T defense really stiffened up. The Aggies allowed just 24 points in the fourth quarter in the regular season. That means that Alcorn State will need to start fast because the Aggies outscored opponents 129-67 in the second half this season.
Alcorn State wound up with three losses in the regular season, but two of those were against FBS teams. The Braves were blanked 41-0 by Georgia Tech in Week 1 and then lost on November 3 against New Mexico State, but Las Cruces is a very long way from Lorman, Mississippi. The Braves still put up 42 points in that game.
The Braves offense was a lot more explosive than NC A&T’s offense. Alcorn State averaged nearly 34 points per game and ran for 6.1 yards per carry. Quarterback Noah Johnson was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year and did so by throwing for over 2,000 yards and rushing for 960 yards. Johnson has accounted for 24 total touchdowns and completed over 64 percent of his passes. Even though Raynard is the more experienced starter, Johnson may be the more potent starter in the quarterback battle.
Atlanta native De’Shawn Waller led the team with 1,048 yards on 168 carries. He had 6.2 yards per pop and led the team with 12 touchdowns. Senior back PJ Simmons is also plenty capable with 5.2 yards per play. None of the backs were all that effective as pass catchers and leading receiver Raidarious Anderson only had 502 yards. If the NC A&T defense can stuff the run, like it has all season, the Braves may need to get creative.
The Alcorn State defense wasn’t as dominant, though opponents did only score a hair of 21 points per game. Alcorn State held the opposition to 3.0 yards per carry and outgained the opposition by more than 2,000 yards on the ground. This is going to be a game about rush defenses.
Celebration Bowl Pick: Alcorn State +8
It isn’t hard to find a +8 out there on this game. The clock will run a lot in this one, as both teams will be looking to keep it on the ground. Alcorn State has a little bit stronger of a passing game, but possessions are going to be like gold here, so running the risk of a bad turnover may not have the same reward as it might against another team. This should be a lower-scoring game and you generally want to side with the points in those.
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