By Anfernee Patterson
North Carolina A&T Aggies Head Coach Sam Washington and his players have a saying: “If something good happens, keep playing. If something bad happens, keep playing.” The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) champions applied their mantra and withstood a furious rally from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champions Alcorn State Braves. When the dust settled Saturday afternoon inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Aggies celebrated a 24-22 victory, sealing their third Celebration Bowl victory in four years.
“I am proud of the win; it is the extra cream on top when you get to play in a Bowl game like this. I am proud to be a part of it,” said Washington.
Quarterback Lamar Raynard was named Offensive Most Valuable Player after a steady 18-30 for 292 yards and 2 touchdowns. He led the Aggies downfield for the first points of the game, connecting with wide receiver Zachary Leslie for a seven yard touchdown strike to go up 7-0 12:38 remaining in the first quarter.
For a majority of the first half, Alcorn State’s running game and offense was absent. However, the Braves were able to put up three points on their second drive to narrow the lead to four.
The first half belonged to A&T as Raynard was on fire. This time, he connected with Elijah Bell for a 27 yard touchdown pass to lead 17-3 with 2:30 to go until halftime.
Alcorn State’s quarterback, Noah Johnson, had enough of the Aggies excitement and led the Braves downfield for the final drive of the first half. Time was the roadblock for the Aggies as they settled for a field goal, going into halftime down 17-6.
Later in the third quarter, the Braves were able to get a touchdown on the board as Johnson ran 30 yards to close the lead to four points.
Braves kicker C. McCullough was at work all day, converting on a 29 yard field goal to make the Aggies lead down to one.
While the purple and gold of Alcorn celebrated, NC A&T’s Malik Washington returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown, swinging the momentum back to the Aggies. The extra point was good, and A&T was up 24-16 with thirty-three seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Alcorn went back on the attack. Johnson went back to work, leading a nine play, ninety-two yard drive, which was capped off by a 59 yard rushing touchdown, and the score was 24-22. However, Braves Head Coach Fred McNair signaled for his offense to go for two. Aggies lead to two. It appeared Alcorn’s two point conversion attempt was good, however, the officials said the receiver did maintain possession after the catch.
“No one gave me an explanation. I was looking for a juggle, a foot out of bounds, something. Just tell me,” said Alcorn Head Coach Fred McNair when asked what explanation was given by the referees.
Ultimately the two point conversion failed, upon further review. Aggies lead remained 24-22 and ultimately ran out the clock, securing their third HBCU National Championship in four years.
“We worked hard for this. All the time, our coaches told us, stay the course. I am just proud of the team and our offensive coordinator [Chris Barnette] for preparing us,” said A&T quarterback Lamar Raynard.
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Voice.