We are just days away from what arguably will be a game changer for HBCU’s going forward. The annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl is scheduled to take place on Saturday, December 19. For those who are not aware of this new bowl game, I am here to shed a little light on the history of the game as well as some background on the two programs which will be facing off.
The Air Force Celebration Bowl is a new post season game that will match up the winners from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), two Historically Black Division I athletic programs. The North Carolina Aggies will face the Alcorn State Braves as part of the inaugural bowl game. The game will take place in Atlanta Georgia at the Georgia Dome which will serve as a neutral location. The Braves and the Aggies will travel roughly 300-400 miles to the site of the game. Both teams are expected to attract a huge following because the location of the game.
The Celebration Bowl will be the third bowl game between the MEAC and SWAC champions. The two conferences met twice before in the Pelican Bowl (1970’s) and the Heritage Bowl (1990’s). The Pelican Bowl only lasted three years folding in 1975 due to low attendance. The Heritage Bowl fared a little better operating from 1991-1999. The plans were for the Heritage Bowl to serve as a true national championship game for HBCU’s but they ran into a problem when some of the conference champions declined the automatic bid in order to take part in the NCAA’s Division I-AA playoff instead. Attendance for these game were much higher than expected but because the MEAC wasn’t willing to guarantee that its conference champion would play and the television contracted was terminated which ultimately ended the bowl game. The Celebration Bowl hopes to serve as a long-term replacement for the Pelican and Heritage Bowl. In addition, a 6-year agreement has been reached that will pay $1 million to both participating conferences.
NORTH CAROLINA AGRICULTURAL and TECHNICAL STATE UNIVERSITY
The North Carolina A&T football program has been up and running since 1901. They play their home games in Greensboro, North Carolina and hold an overall record of 461-415-46. The program has claimed 12 conference titles and 3 national titles. Earl Hilton is the current athletic director with Rod Broadway serving as head coach. Broadway has been the spark the Aggies needed after the program has several sub-par seasons. Coach Broadway has a 28-17 record which is a sign the Aggies are headed in the right direction. The Aggies bring their 9-2 record into this weekend match with losses to the North Carolina Tarheels and North Carolina Central Eagles.
The Aggies are led by senior quarterback Kwashaun Quick who has a 16-4 career record. Quick’s last name suits him well as he has the ability to be a dual threat. Quick has passed for 1,789 yards with 15 touchdowns and another 8 touchdowns and 864 yards on the ground. Quick gets a lot of help from tailback Tarik Cohen who packs a mighty punch despite his small frame.
Cohen is a junior and is one of the most dynamic players in college football. He’s listed at 5’6, which might be generous, but has never allowed his size to stop him. Cohen runs a 4.3 40-yard dash, has twelve 100-yard games, three 200-yard games, nearly 2,500 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in just 22 games. Cohen has been seen on ESPN, NBC Sports and YouTube showing off his ability to catch two football in mid-air while doing a backflip. He will definitely be a focal point in the Aggies’ offense and the Alcorn State Braves will have to slow him down if they plan to win..
ALCORN STATE UNIVERSITY
Alcorn State University located in Lorman Mississippi, played their inaugural football season in 1921. The Braves are led by 4th year head coach Jay Hopson brings a 23-13 record into Saturday’s matchup. The Braves have been conference champs 15 times and won division titles twice in 2014 and 2015. They have a 9-3 record suffering losses to Georgia Tech, Prairie View and Grambling State.
John Gibbs Jr. stared the season as the Braves’ quarterback but was replaced by sophomore Lenorris Footman after suffering a leg injury. Despite playing a backup quarterback, Footman filled in well helping led the Braves to SWAC title which was their second in as many years. He is coming off his best game of the season in a win over Grambling State. Footman tallied 202 passing yards and 3 touchdowns in a 49-21 win.
Senior running back Darryan Ragsdale is a beast. Ragsdale rushed for 188 yards in his last game and has 4 consecutive 100-yard games. The Braves defensive leader Warren Gatewood will be someone the Aggies have to watch out for. Gatewood’s three interceptions, one in which he returned for a 24-yard touchdown, was key during the team’s title game.
No doubt about it, the inaugural Celebration Bowl will go down in history as a significant event for HBCU’s. Both teams are going to lay it all on the line for 60 minutes. These two teams are evenly matched and outcome will come down to who protects the ball best and can dominate the ground game limiting big plays.
It’s worth noting that Alcorn State defeated North Carolina A&T 16-13 during their last meeting which took place on September 11th, 2004.