By Lut Williams
Black College Sports Page
ATLANTA – Graduate quarterback Kylil Carter, playing in his final game, passed for 364 yards and a bowl-game record six touchdown passes to lead big-play Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina A&T to a surprising 64-44 win over Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alcorn State in Celebration Bowl V at Mercedes Benz Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Mandela Jones Photo
The game, that had all the markings of a defensive struggle as both teams were among the stingiest in their respective conferences, turned out to be just the opposite.
“I never expected this game to be like it was, a shootout, I really didn’t,” said Alcorn State fourth-year head coach Fred McNair, who came up short for the second straight year after his team dropped a close 24-22 decision to the Aggies in last year’s game.
“They didn’t have to work too hard for those touchdowns,” he said. “One thing we always talk about in our pre-game is not giving up big plays, and that’s exactly what we did. Bad eyes by the safeties, by the corners. We just didn’t do a good job on the back end.”
The Aggies (9-3) thus snag their third straight win in the bowl game and fourth overall, all the wins the MEAC has earned against their SWAC counterparts in the game’s five-year history. It was their third victory over Alcorn State (9-4) after a win last year and in Celebration Bowl I in 2015.
NC A&T will likely be crowned the 2019 black college national champion after its performance.
“What a game,” said victorious second-year NC A&T head coach Sam Washington who got his second straight bowl game victory. “Offensively, I think both teams played very well. Defensively, not so much,” said Washington, the former defensive co-ordinator for the Aggies. “But it was very entertaining.”
“But I’m very proud of my team. I thought they played with a lot of courage, a lot of effort and a lot of want-to. They started fast and they finished strong.”
With A&T leading 24-10 at the half, the game’s highlight was perhaps a raucous, back-and-forth third quarter that saw the teams put up a bowl game-record 49 points with the Aggies outscoring the Braves 28-21 to lead 52-31 entering the final period.
First team all-MEAC running back Jah-Maine Martin, who was held to just one yard on seven carries in the first half, broke loose on a 75-yard scoring run on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter to put the Aggies up 31-10.
In addition to Martin’s 75-yarder, the Aggies scored on big-play pass receptions of 53, 59, 43, 20 and 73 yards.
After the Aggies were held scoreless in the first quarter, senior wideout Elijah Bell got them on the board when he hauled in the 53-yarder after the Aggies had fallen behind 3-0 in the first quarter. That score, a 28-yard Corey McCullough field goal, came after Korey Banks fumbled a punt deep in A&T territory. Bell later added a 20-yard scoring grab in the third quarter. Those were his only two receptions on the day.
Alcorn State went up 10-3 in the second quarter on a 36-yard pass from quarterback Felix Harper to Chris Blair. Then, wide receiver Zach Leslie got into the act, snaring a 59-yard bomb from Carter to put the Aggies back on top 14-10.
Placekicker Noel Ruiz booted through a 26-yard field goal after freshman linebacker Jason Roberts picked off a Harper pass deep in Alcorn territory. Banks scored the last first half TD, and made up for his earlier miscue, as he hauled in a 4-yard pass from Carter to send the Aggies into halftime with the 24-10 lead.
Ron Hunt, playing in only his third game after suffering through an injury most of the season, added his name to the scoring roster as he caught a 43-yarder over the middle from Carter to extend the Aggies’ lead to 38-17 at the 10:06 mark of the third quarter. Alcorn needed only three plays to answer, scoring on DeShawn Waller’s 23-yard run pulling the Braves to within 38-24
The see-saw continued with Bell getting his second TD only to be answered by Raidarious Anderson’s 35-yard scoring reception from Harper with just under four minutes left in the period. Before the quarter ended, Banks got wide open along the left sideline and zig-zagged his way thru defenders on a 73-yarder from Carter.
Martin finished the day with 110 yards on 16 carries including a 4-yard TD with 3:37 left that capped the day’s scoring. Carter, named the game’s offensive MVP, hit on 18 of 30 passes for the record 364 yards. He also rushed for 96 yards to set the Celebration Bowl total offense mark of 460 total offensive yards. Banks had six receptions for 132 yards and two scores. Leslie had four catches for 81 yards and a score.
Harper kept the Braves in the game completing 25 of 42 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He also scored on two short scoring runs. Anderson had eight receptions on the day for 85 yards and one score while Blair had seven receptions for 150 yards and one TD.
The teams who set a Celebration Bowl record with their combined 108 points also set the record for total yards (1,034), 574 by NC A&T and 460 by Alcorn State.