All Photos credited to Terry Mosley / The SkyBoat
Written by James Leyva
Atlanta, GA, The Second Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl features two conference champion teams that have a chance to make history in their programs. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Champion, the North Carolina Central Eagles will battle the Southwestern Athletic Conference Champion, the Grambling State Tigers. Both teams head into this bowl game on a nine game winning streak.
Last year was the first ever Celebration Bowl game and it went down to wire as North Carolina A&T State defeated Alcorn State, 41-34. Because of its success, the bowl game has returned for another year and it hopes to live up to the hype. For both NC Central and Grambling State, it gives them a chance to show the nation what their schools are all about and where their programs are going. This game is known as the " Historically Black College University National Championship,” so it means a great deal to each team.
The Celebration Bowl festivities has both teams very busy and excited heading into the game. The Eagles and Tigers participated in a Center for Civil and Human Rights meeting, the College Football Hall of Fame Champions dinner and visited the Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital. Captain’s for both teams visited five or more children at the hospital and the visit gave the children many smiles and hopefully great memories to treasure. All of the activities have been a learning experience for the players and fun memories have been created, however there is still a football game to be played.
NC Central has achieved their first official MEAC Champion since 2012, as they were co-champions in 2014 and 2015. The Eagles started their season with two losses, losing to Duke and Western Michigan by a combined 92 points. Despite the rough start, they managed to go on a nine game winning streak. The winning streak also included a defeat of their rival NC A&T State, 41-21 to secure the conference title. The Eagles finished the season with a 9-2 record and are 9-0 in conference play.
NC Central is led by their senior quarterback, Malcolm Bell, who is the second quarterback in school history to pass for over 6,000 yards and rush for over 1,400 yards in a season. Eagles head coach Jerry Mack has led this program back into prominence, winning 24 games in his first three seasons, a feat that that no other coach in school history has accomplished. Mack is the second head coach in school history to win the American Football Coaches Association Regional Coach of the Year award and is also the 2016 MEAC Coach of the Year.
The Grambling State Tigers have had a tremendous season with 10-1 record, a 9-0 record in conference play and are the 2016 SWAC champions. This is the first SWAC conference championship for the Tigers since 2011. Their only loss this season came against an FBS opponent in the Arizona Wildcats, 31-21. This game showed that Grambling State had the toughness and skill to contend in the SWAC conference. Grambling State’s defense is ranked number one in red zone defense in the FCS and is also ranked in the top 10in sacks, defensive touchdowns and scoring defense.
University of Mississippi transfer and now Grambling State quarterback DeVante Kincade is third in passing efficiency in the FCS and is the 2016 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year. He finished the season with over 2,800 yards passing and 30 touchdowns. Grambling State head coach Broderick Fobbs is in his third year has 27-9 overall record..
There are similarities between both teams as both coaches are in their third year with their respective teams and both teams finished the season on nine or ten game winning streaks. With everything each team has accomplished this season, it should make this game very interesting. NC Central last played Grambling State in 1986, at Yankee Stadium and the Tigers won 32-24. Grambling State leads the all-time series 3-0 against the Eagles..
NC Central looks to defeat the Tigers for the first time in the Celebration Bowl. If Grambling State wins, they will finish with an 11-1 record, their best record since 2008. Both teams have a lot to prove in this national stage and whoever wins will be named the "HBCU National Champion.” The Celebration Bowl will Take place Saturday, December 17th, 12 PM EST at the Georgia Dome and the game will be televised on ABC.
2nd Annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl North Carolina Central Eagles vs. Grambling State Tigers
Written By: James Leyva
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.