Over 32,000 people traveled to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to witness the fifth annual Celebration Bowl on Saturday. Whether it was tailgating, Greek fraternities stepping, or good barbecue being cooked, the Celebration Bowl was filled with fun and excitement. As for the game, it wasn’t so much fun for the Alcorn State Braves as they were defeated by the North Carolina A&T Aggies 64-44. The Aggies have now won the last three Celebration Bowls and four of the total five.
The game started out slow for both teams. Each offense struggled to move the ball in their first two drives. North Carolina A&T only had 13 yards passing and one rushing yard in the quarter. They were shut down by the Alcorn State defense and were able to secure only one first down. Alcorn State didn’t do much better as they had just 49 total yards and four first downs. Alcorn State scored the only points of the 1st quarter with kicker Corey McCullough nailing a 28-yard field goal to give the Braves a 3-0 lead.
In the second quarter, North Carolina A&T began to find their rhythm offensively. The Aggies would begin to score at will as wide receiver Elijah Bell caught a 53-yard missile from quarterback Kylil Carter to score a touchdown on the Aggies’ first drive. Alcorn State would respond quickly with quarterback Felix Harper throwing a 36-yard strike to Chris Blair to lead the game 10-7. The Aggies, however, would remain in control for the rest of the quarter as Carter began to pick the Braves secondary apart. Carter would respond by throwing a 59-yard touchdown to Zachary Leslie to take the lead back at 14-10. On Alcorn State’s next offensive drive, North Carolina A&T linebacker Jacob Roberts came up with a huge interception and ran it all the way to the Alcorn five-yard line. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to punch it in for the touchdown and had to settle for a field goal to make the score 17-10. After scoring the field goal, Kylil Carter threw a clutch touchdown pass to Korey Banks with 40 seconds left in the half to make the score 24-10.
The 3rd quarter was by far one of the craziest displays of offense I have ever witnessed. North Carolina A&T running back Jah-Maine Martin made his presence known on the very first play of the quarter as he ran for a 75-yard touchdown. The run sent the North Carolina A&T fans into a frenzy, while the Alcorn State fans stared in disbelief. However, the Alcorn offense would counter as quarterback Felix Harper ran for a 6-yard touchdown to trim North Carolina A&T’s lead making the score 31-17. Throughout the quarter, both teams would trade touchdown passes in what seemed to be almost video game-like. The quarterbacks, Carter and Harper seemed like they could do whatever they wanted, and the defensive backs were pretty much non-existent. Nevertheless, the Aggies would pull away at the end of the quarter as Carter would continue his dominance. He would throw a 20-yard touchdown to Elijah Bell and another 73-yard touchdown to Banks in under five minutes to make the score 52-31 going into the 4th quarter. The quarter set a celebration bowl record for total points in a quarter between both teams with a total of 49.
In the 4th quarter, although everyone thought the game was pretty much decided, Alcorn State showed no quit. Harper continued his fantastic day as he threw a 13-yard touchdown at the 13-minute mark. This would make the score 52-38. Unfortunately for the Braves, the Aggies showed no signs of slowing down either. For North Carolina A&T, it became the Jah-Maine Martin show as they gave the star running back the ball most of the time to run the clock out. North Carolina A&T would score a field goal and return a blocked PAT to make the score 57-42. Martin would seal the victory with a late four-yard touchdown to end the game.
North Carolina A&T Quarterback, Kylil Carter was named Offensive MVP as he put on a record performance in front of his hometown. The Senior quarterback threw for 364 yards (a Celebration Bowl record), rushed for 94 yards, and tied the school record for passing touchdowns with six. Freshman linebacker Jacob Roberts was named Defensive MVP with six tackles and an interception. Some other notable players included running back Jah-Maine Martin (132 yards and two touchdowns), and wide receiver Korey Banks (six catches, 122 yards, two touchdowns). The Aggies also broke many Celebration Bowl records which include: most points scored, most passing touchdowns, most total yards in a game, etc.
When asked about the win, North Carolina A&T Head Coach Sam Washington explained how proud of his team he was. “We had the “want-to” to win the game today,” Washington said. “It’s a lot of hard work, effort, and sacrifice that goes into this. Not everyone makes it through. But when you do it the right way this is the result you get.”