ATLANTA – North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State combined to set several records Saturday at the Celebration Bowl at Mercedes Benz Stadium, which the Aggies won 64-44.
A crowd of 32, 968, the second-largest ever in the event, was on hand as N.C. A&T captured its second straight win and its fourth overall in the contest, which pits the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in a game that decides the mythical championship among HBCUs.
N.C. A&T and the Braves were meeting for the second consecutive year and the third time in the five-year history of the event, which was first played in 2015. The two teams also played in the inaugural Celebration Bowl
A barrage of records was set in the high-scoring contest, which gave the MEAC a 4-1 edge in the five meetings of the Bowl. Celebration Bowl records established, among others, were most points combined (108), most points in a quarter (49), most touchdown passes in a quarter (4 by NC A&T’s Kylil Carter), most TDs in a game (6 by Carter), and most combined total yards (1,034),
Aggies quarterback Kylil Carter, the Celebration Bowl offensive MVP , had six touchdown passes – three in the third period — to tie an Aggie program record in leading his squad to the victory. The 5-10, 229-pound graduate student, had scoring tosses of 53, 59, four, 43, 20 and 73 yards in the contest. He finished 18-30 for 364 yards, hitting four different receivers for touchdowns.
Senior Elijah Bell (53, 20) and redshirt junior Korey Banks (four, 73) were each on the receiving end of two Carter scoring tosses. Redshirt junior Zachary Leslie (59 yds) and senior Ron Hunt (43 yds) had one touchdown reception each for the Aggies.
Banks had six catches for 122 yards and the two scores to lead the NC A&T receiving corps, while Leslie snared four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Aggie rushing attack, which rolled up 210 yards on the ground, was led by Martin with 16 attempts for 110 yards and two scores and Carter, who rushed 13 times for 96 yards.
NC A&T head coach Sam Washington praised his quarterback and his leadership after the win.
“He (Carter) has been a great and vocal leader all year,” Washington said of Carter. “This win defines their (seniors) legacy. It’s a real blessing for our program.”
Carter’s teammate Jacob Roberts, with six tackles including one for a loss, and an interception that set up a score for NCA&T was the game’s defensive MVP.
Coach Fred McNair’s Alcorn squad rolled up 460 yards total offense in the loss. Redshirt junior Felix Harper was the offensive catalyst for the Braves as he connected on 25-42 attempts for 341 yards and three scores, with one interception. Harper also had scoring runs of six and one yard in the contest.
Alcorn (9-4) took an early 3-0 lead in the contest when senior Corey McCullough nailed a 28-yard field goal with 3:17 left in the opening quarter, following an Aggie fumbled punt return. The score, which culminated a 10-play, 23-yard drive, was the only one in the quarter.
The Aggies used a 3-play, 65 yard march, to take the lead when Carter connected on the first of his six scoring passes, 65 yards to senior Elijah Bell, with 13:03 on the second-quarter scoreboard. Ruiz added the PAT for a 7-3 Aggie advantage.
The Braves came back to go ahead 10-7 when Harper capped a six-play, 74-yard scoring drive with the first of his three touchdown passes, 36 yards to Blair. McCullough’s PAT put Alcorn in front 10-7 with 10:16 left in the half.
The Aggies would score three more times before intermission to take a 24-10 lead to the locker room. Carter hooked up with Leslie from 59 yards away with at the 7:55 mark, Ruiz added the first of his two first fields, from 26 yards out, with 5:05 showing, and following an Aggie interception, Banks caught a four-yards scoring pass from Carter 41 seconds before the half ended with NC A&T ahead 24-10.
The Aggies, who scored on eight straight possessions, including seven touchdowns, needed only 13 seconds in the second half to add to their lead, when running back Jah-Maine Martin raced 75 yards on the first play of the third quarter for a score. Ruiz added the PAT for a 31-10 Aggie Edge with 14:47 left in the period.
Harper got the first of his two scoring runs, from six yards out, to pull the Braves to with 31-17, following McCullough’s PAT with 11:37 left in the third; however, it took just 91 seconds to answer as Carter connected with Hunt from 43 yards away for a 38-17 NC A&T advantage following the PAT with still 10:06 on the third-period clock.
In what would eventually be a record 49-point third period, each team would score twice more in the period, which ended up with the Aggies ahead 52-31. The Braves’ De’Shawn Waller had a 23-yard scoring run to bring his team to within 38-24 with 9:09 left, before Bell caught a 20-yard scoring pass from Carter to give NC A&T a 45-24 lead at 4:56 of the period.
Harper connected with Raidarius Anderson from 35 yards away for the Braves to close the gap to 45-31 with 3:49 left, but the Aggies got a 73-yard scoring toss from Carter to Banks with 2:50 showing and 52-31 Aggie lead entering the final period.
The Aggies added two touchdowns and a field goal in the final period, while the Braves tacked on two scores for the final margin, 64-44, in the record-setting contest.