Inside Hotlanta and the SIAC
By Hal Lamar
Photos by Patsy Collier-Lamar
Broadway on NC A&T Celebration -We do Chicken!
ATLANTA- North Carolina A&T head coach Rod Broadway describes his secret ingrediant which allowed his elevens to defeat Alcorn State in the first Celebration Bowl here and for that matter allowed him to win national crowns for Grambling (2008) and North Carolina Central (2006) rather simplistically. " I put it like this," he told the assembled press after his 41-34 victory over the Braves December 19 at the Georgia Dome."We're like Kentucky Fried Chicken. We do chicken. No hamburgers, no beef. We do one thing and we do it well. That's how we coach. We change little. We do the same thing, day in, day out. We adjust a bit but for the most part, we do chicken."
Broadway and his elevens cooked up a finger lickin' variety at the Celebration Bowl. The win was no snap but in the first half that was hard to prove. Example. The first opportunity the Aggies got with the football on a fourth down punt by Alcorn, sophomore Khris Gardin returned the oval 74 yards for a score. Only 1:24 had elapsed in the first period. To their credit, Alcorn responded three minutes, 25 seconds later with an 84 yard punt return "bone of its own" by senior free safety Anthony Williams, Jr. Unfortunately, Alcorn's attempt to forge ahead on a two point attempt to tie the score failed.
The Braves would eventually tie the score twice in the fourth period but never took the lead. Later, when Alcorn came within four yards of scoring a touchdown with the option of a one point PAT to tie or take the lead on a two point attempt, admitting he had already decided to imitate a Louisiana riverboat gambler, "I was going for two," head coach Jay Hopson said.
But three minutes later (and still in the first quarter) A&T unleashed secret weapon Tarik Cohen. The 5-6, 173 pound junior from Bunn, North Carolina took a 2nd and 10 handoff from his quarterback Kwashaun Quick and raced near unmolested 74 yards to paydirt, increasing their one point lead to eight. Cohen, voted offensive player and MVP of the game, turned right around 4:29 later, taking another Quick handoff on 1st and 10 from the Aggie 17 and raced 83 yards for his second TD of the game.
By halftime, Cohen had rushed for 171 yards. It didn't surprise his head coach. "We've said all along that Tarik was something special," said Broadway. "And I guess today the nation saw him for themselves (the game was broadcast over ABC courtesy of ESPN which owns the Celebration Bowl). We've said for three years what he is capable of doing." "Tariq was the difference maker in the football game," said Alcorn's Hopson. " A couple of times, we thought we had him wrapped up but he made the play. He's hard to hem in ."Cohen ended the contest rushing 295 yards and scoring three times, all of them rushes for over 70 yards. In fact, his last strike of 73 yards turned out to provide the winning points for the Aggies.
To Alcorn's credit, they bent but never broke despite Cohen's performance. In fact, the game ended in a nail biting climax the last 1:28. Starting a drive at midfield, the Braves moved the oval to the North Carolina A&T 9 yard line thanks to a seven yard pass completion from sophomore QB LeNorris Footman to sophomore Charles Hughes. It provided the Braves four fresh downs but Footman attempted four passes into the end zone that wound up incomplete before time ran out. "You saw two championship teams out there today," said Broadway. "Alcorn hung in and played for 60 minutes. Luckily we came out on top."
35,528 was the announced attendance for the game. Days before kickoff, organizers claimed that over 30,000 advance tickets had moved. Dennis Thomas, commissioner of the 11 football colleges of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, said the idea of the Celebration Bowl began 12 years ago through conversations with ESPN officials and Robert Vowels, forner commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (who was also former commissioner of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). He said at the time, the council of presidents of the MEAC and SWAC were reluctant to forgo their automatic berths to the NCAA FCS playoffs (despite the fact that since they started in 1978, Florida A&M was the only HBCU to win the championship. After that, only a handful of HBCU teams have made it past the first round). "But I kept bringing up the idea of creating our own bowl and forsaking the playoffs . I got crucified by the media but maintained due diligence and it paid off." The celebration bowl idea was not the first for the SWAC and MEAC.
A similar attempt was made in 1991 when the Heritage Bowl was organized. The game started in 1991 in Miami Florida's Joe Robbie Stadium, stayed two years in Florida before moving to the Georgia Dome in 1994 with a game on New Year's day that drew a surprising 36,128.
The Heritage continued to draw well the seven years it domiciled here but was discontinued after the 1999 game between Hampton and Southern (Hampton won 24-3. Thomas was Athletic Director of Hampton at the time). Sixteen years later, the two conferences agreed to send their champions to the Celebration. " I was around during the Heritage," said Thomas. The major difference is ESPN (though the Heritage was broadcast by NBC two of the seven years it was in Atlanta). That's it . Say no more. They put their full force behind it. All we had to do was make sure the product was ready for prime time." -0-
XTRA POINTS:I would hope that the success of the Celebration Bowl might encourage the commishes and councils of presidents of the CIAA and SIAC to put their Pioneer Bowl game back on the field...and anchor it in Atlanta. It was started in 1997 as the brainchild of the SIAC's first full time commissioner, the late Wallace Jackson. The game was played 14 times, the first 6 in Atlanta. It then grew legs and became nomadic, stopping first in Mobile Alabama, then to Charlotte North Carolina, Columbia South Carolina and the final three games in Columbus Georgia. It was cancelled in 2013 by mutual agreement based on a statement by both conference commissioners.
The Pioneer has historic significance as the only Division II post-season contest with NCAA sanctioning in the United States. Now, might there be a time when we see a Pioneer Bowl winner battle the Celebration bowl winner to determine a "true" HBCU champ? I posed that to Dennis Thomas, commissioner of the MEAC while in Atlanta for the Celebration on December 19.
"I can't answer that question with accuracy because we're Division I football," he told INSIDE." The SIAC and CIAA are Division II. There is a difference. Right now, I'm just making sure that this (celebration) bowl experience succeeds." I suppose there will be continual debate among media, schools and officialdom running both over whether there is any real "difference" between HBCUs at either Division I or Division II. I will say that to insure the Celebration Bowl continues to succeed and grow, there has to be some plan of inclusion for the other two conferences.s ...The decision by Stillman College to scratch 10 of their 12 athletic offerings including football is certainly understandable but a little frightening too. Many schools, especially private HBCUs, are also trying to figure out how to keep their doors open while saving their athletic departmenst which is also the most vulnerable when budget cuts are discussed. This is the time when alums of these schools should step up to save these programs..........One additional plus that comes out of the Celebration Bowls' extensive exposure via ABC and ESPN is that it will call attention to the talent at HBCUs that it seems professional sports teams have been ignoring . "It showcased us in a very positive manner," said MEAC commish Dennis Thomas. The world got the chance to see what we've known for decades.".......
Bill Hamilton is supposed to be retired as the longtime (42 year) sports information director for South Carolina State. He told INSIDE that while he hung up his day to day duties, he returns to help out whenever they ask. He was in Atlanta working at the Celebration Bowl.
Can't keep an old pro down. Hang in there, Bill.
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