2nd Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl North Carolina Central Eagles vs. Grambling State Tigers
Written By: James Leyva
(Photo Credit: Terry Mosley/ The SkyBoat)
Atlanta, GA - The 2nd Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl between the North Carolina Central Eagles and Grambling State Tigers went down as a classic defensive battle. Both teams came in on a nine game winning streak and both champions in their conference, and playing for the National Championship of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, it lived up to the hype. 31,096 fans showed up to the Georgia Dome to watch MEAC Champion vs. SWAC Champion. In the end, Grambling defeated the Eagles 10-9 to win the 2016 Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl and are the HBCU National Champions.
For about three quarters, this game was all about defense. The Tigers started their first possession with quarterback Devante Kincade throwing an interception to Eagles defensive back Alden Mcclollan that ended in a touchback. NCCU would drive the ball down field and end up with twenty-three yard field goal to give the Eagles a 3-0 advantage over the Tigers. Despite the Tigers moving the ball down on the second drive, Tigers kicker Brandon McLaren missed a 30-yard field goal that would have tied the game. The score would remain the same throughout the entire first half. The momentum seem to be on the Eagles side shutting out the Tigers offense throughout the first half, despite Grambling being the No. 4 scoring offense in the FCS. Tiger quarterback Devante Kincade talked about playing 60 full minutes afte the game, “We knew coming into this game they were gonna give us their best shot. So after the first half we came back ready to play against what they got.”
Penalties, turnovers, and the inability to score in the red zone seemed to be the problem for both teams in the first half. The Eagles had two turnovers a fumble and interception, and were just 1 of 3 on redzone trips in the first half. The Tigers had five penalties for 34 yards, 0-1 in the redzone, 4 out of 8 converting on 3rd downs, and were unable to convert on their one 4th down attempt.
However, in the start of the second half, the Tigers found their spark in the running game. Tigers running back Martez Carter broke off a 32 yard run for the only touchdown of the game to give the Grambling the 7-3 lead over the NCCU Eagles. The ability to get the running game going was the true catalyst in the game for Grambling after tallying 76 rushing yards in the first half, they added 123 yards in the second half. Justin Kelly finished with 17 carries and 65 yards rushing for the Tigers, while Devante Kincade added 12 carries for 42 yards rushing.
NCCU’s first three drives of the second half were not at all what they wanted, as they were plagued with penalties and dropped passes, resulting in three and outs. On their third drive, they ended up fumbling the football and the Tigers recovered it. Despite being down and struggling offensively, the NCCU defense was still dominating the Tigers offense and was able to hold the Tigers to 10 points in the third quarter. Grambling State had a 10-3 lead going into the fourth quarter and would not score for the rest of the game. NCCU head coach Jerry Mack spoke after the game about the performance of the defense.
“I thought they (the defense) did a great job being relentless,” Mack said. He also added, “they (the defense) did great job on third downs and critical situations with odds, fourth down situations, making sure they stop the opponent. Kudos to our defensive coach Eastman, I thought those guys did left it on the field and played their hearts out.”
In the fourth quarter, it was a seesaw affair with neither team being able to put the ball into the end zone. Both teams ran into problems with turnovers and converting first downs as each team had two punts in the quarter. In the last five minutes of the game however, the Celebration Bowl crowd was about to see the critical moments that would determine the outcome.
With 2:14 left in the game, NCCU quarterback Malcolm Bell threw a 39 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Quentin Atkinson to bring the eagles within one point. It was exciting play that ended with disastrous results for the Eagles. Atkinson was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after the touchdown and as a result, the ball was moved back from the original spot for the extra point. The extra point was then blocked by Grambling State defensive back Joseph McWilliams. That one blocked extra point was the difference in the game.
NCCU recovered the onside kick, but were called for two penalties for an illegal block and off-sides. NCCU failed to recover the second onside kick and the Tigers got the ball back. Eagles had one more shot to get the ball back, but Kincade completed a 12 yard pass to wide receiver Verlan Hunter on a third down and 12 yards to go to seal the win. Grambling State then took a knee and the game was over.
Grambling State running back Martez Carter won the offensive Most Valuable Player award, finishing the game with 12 carries for 109 yards rushing and one touchdown. He was the driving force behind the offense. Kincade also contributed offensively, completing 15 of 31 passes, for 149 yards passing and one interception. Tigers’ defensive back Jameel Jackson was awarded defensive MVP as he had five total tackles and one interception.
= Bell led the way for the Eagles, completing 18 of 32 passes, for 240 yards passing, one touchdown and two interceptions. NCCU will head into next season as the defending MEAC champions. They will look to replicate this success next season.
The 2nd Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl ended up as a classic game that should set up more games in the future. This game will be the last one in the Georgia Dome as the game will move to new Mercedes-Benz Stadium next season. Grambling State finishes this season with an overall record of 11-1, 9-0 in the SWAC conference and NCCU finishes 9-3, 9-0 in MEAC Conference.
Written By: James Leyva
CLEMSON, SC, The 114th meeting between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers, known as the “Palmetto Bowl,” ended up being beautiful night for the Tigers. For the third straight year, the Clemson Tigers routed their arch rival South Carolina Gamecocks, 56 to 7. This victory now gives the Tigers their fourth 11 win season out of the last five years. South Carolina is bowl eligible having a 6-6 record, but once again, fell victim to Clemson. Clemson senior quarterback Deshaun Watson and his fellow seniors had a memorable night that they will likely never forget.
The Palmetto Bowl game is the rivalry between the two major universities of South Carolina, Clemson and South Carolina. Neither team was willing to let the other one have bragging rights, or the Palmetto Bowl Trophy. The Gamecocks came into this stadium hoping to spoil Clemson playoff chances. However, Clemson came out with a bang and was ready to answer the bell against the Gamecocks by jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. Clemson has not scored this many points in the first quarter since 2003, when Tigers faced the Gamecocks in Columbia.
South Carolina’s confidence was shattered at the end of the first quarter and could not stop Watson, or the Tigers’ offense from putting a record 622 yards of total offense. This was the most ever yards gained by one team in the rivalry. Watson had his best performance in his last home game at Clemson Memorial Stadium. He completed 26 of 32 passes, 347 yards and six touchdowns for the second time in his career (which ties his own record against North Carolina 2014).
Clemson wide receiver Artavis Scott had eight catches for 77 yards, one touchdown and had the longest punt return of the year, 28 yards. Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams had a huge night as well, with six receptions for 100 yards and three touchdowns, which is the most any receiver ever had against the Gamecocks.
Williams said after the game “It felt great you know, we felt like we had some opportunities, he threw up and I made some plays.”
Watson now has over 4,000 all-purpose yards for the season, in passing and rushing. He is also still in the Heisman Trophy conversation, but all that matter to him is winning football games.
“I guess so it’s kinda out of my control,” Watson said. “I kinda I figured that out last year, I don't make that decision, certain people do, it’s the voters and people they have board trustees with the Heisman and the voters. Hopefully I did something, but at the end of the day I just try to focus on getting the W, a couple weeks to decide, so I'm blessed to be part of the conversation.”
Clemson lead the Gamecocks 42-0 at halftime, but it was not over yet for Clemson. The offense went back to work and Watson went 8-8, for 106 yards and two touchdowns to make it 49-7. Running back Wayne Gallman finished his senior night with 19 carries for 118 yards and one touchdown. This was Gallman’s 17th career 100 yard rushing game. The Gamecocks had no answer on defense and Clemson continue to dominate until about six minutes left in the game, when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney decided to give Watson and the seniors their moment of thank you and the crowd gave them a standing ovation as they came off the field for the last time.
Swinney stated, “ to have another game, a home game, these guys played awesome, you know if you gonna win a championship, your best players have to play. I’m of this team and I’m proud of our guys.”
The 2016 Clemson Tiger senior class has 46 wins together and look to continue with a showdown in Orlando, FL in the ACC Championship game against the Virginia Tech Hokies. This will be their second ACC championship game in a row and if they win, they will likely be in the College Football Playoff. As far South Carolina goes, they have a 6-6 record so they will go to a bowl game That has yet to be determined.
James has been a member of The SkyBoat since September of 2016. He graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2011 with a Bachelors of Art in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in photography. James is a photographer and writer at The SkyBoat.