ATLANTA — If you had watched or attended the Celebration Bowl in the first quarter, you probably threatened to change the channel or ask for a refund at the ticket booths. The agony (which felt like an eternity) was short lived.
Alcorn State (9-3, 6-1 in SWAC) and North Carolina A&T (8-3, 6-2 in MEAC) proved to be worth the wait, with a battle for the ages. The Aggies defeated the Braves 64-44 in the biggest shootout in Celebration Bowl history, with 32,968 fans watching, the second most in event history.
Both teams combined for 49 points in the third quarter, which is a new record for points scored in a single quarter in the five year history of the bowl. The previous record was 27 points, posted in 2015 by the same programs.
It was scorers galore. Thank Aggies quarterback Kylil Carter for a boatload of his team’s points, throwing six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Carter broke the record for most touchdown passes in the Celebration Bowl history, previously at four.
It is his last game as an Aggie.
“I just give all praise an honor to my God, my [offensive] lineman, my receivers,” Carter said, who was awarded Offensive MVP. “Without them, it wouldn’t have even been possible.”
Carter and the Aggies started the fireworks in the second quarter with a 53-yard strike to wide receiver Elijah Bell, who had two touchdowns in the game.
Head Coach Sam Washington was seen emotional during the press conference when asked about Bell. Washington watched Bell grow from freshman to senior year.
“It was bittersweet,” Washington said. “I am so grateful and thankful to have known that young man. When I say he is quality, he is quality on and off the field. He just gives off great vibes. He makes people around him better. That’s a gift.”
Bell amassed 73 receiving yards on two receptions. Braves quarterback Felix Harper found Chris Blair downfield for a 36 yard strike and score to put Alcorn State in the lead 10-7.
It was the last time they were ahead for the remainder of the game. The Aggies took control over the game with a Carter’s touchdown passes to wide receiver Zachary Leslie and Korey Banks to close out the half, up 24-10.
Carter said he was able to dissect the Braves’ defense by following Offensive Coordinator Chris Barnette’s strategy.
“Coach Barnette opened it up,” Carter said. “We just went out there and executed everything he called. Made it count and get the ball into the receivers hands. Run the ball and make plays.”
Halftime was a tit-for-tat affair. Back and forth, the Aggies and Braves traded blows, with the Aggies striking first in just 13 seconds on a 75-yard run from running back Jah-Maine Martin.
Harper took matters into his own hands, rushing for a six-yard score. Carter found wide receiver Ron Hunt alone for a 43 yard touchdown going up 38-17.
The Braves fan base, traveled miles and miles from their comfortable homes in Mississippi, and some began to leave after the nine minute mark.
Alcorn State would then turn to more rushing offense with running back De’Shawn Waller breaking through for a 23 yards.
The fourth quarter was the dagger. In such a way that the MVP ballots were already to be filled out at the quarters’ early beginnings. Alcorn State scored two touchdowns in the final quarter, but by then, the Aggies were already celebrating. Players from the Aggies bench could be seen jumping and dancing to the tunes of the band.
The two touchdowns were a pass to Nigel Wood from Harper after a Aggies fumble, and a one-yard scamper from Harper.
After Coach Washington and the Aggies raised the trophy to the sea of blue and gold, he smiled from ear to ear. He couldn’t stop smiling.
“We stopped the run, we did protect the football,” Washington said during the press conference. “The kids played hard and they played to win. So, I am very pleased with that. Is there several things I would like to do differently or better than what we did? Yes.”
“I think that gives us something to build on, for sure. But at this moment, I am enjoying it.”
By Prince Robinson Jr.