Roughly three years ago, the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl was in its inaugural season, hoping to begin a longstanding tradition of showcasing two of the best HBCU football programs on the national stage.
Played in the Georgia Dome its first year, the game drew more than 35,000 fans and has continued to increase since 2015. And in only a few more days, another “champion” will rise.
The 2018 Celebration Bowl features a rematch of the inaugural bowl game between Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) champion North Carolina A&T and Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alcorn State. When the two teams met in 2015, the Aggies edged the Braves 41-34 thanks to a touchdown by then Aggies and current NFL running back Tarik Cohen, who recorded a 73-yard touchdown run.
North Carolina A&T (9-2, 6-1) finished the season ranked second in scoring offense (30.6 points per game) and first scoring defense (allowing 13.5 ppg) in the MEAC. The Aggies enter the game averaging 387.8 yards of offense (third in the conference) and giving up 200.2 yards on defense (first in the conference).
Alcorn (9-3, 8-1) will look to write the perfect ending to an outstanding regular season as the Braves make their second appearance in the Celebration Bowl. The Braves enter the game ranked first in scoring offense (33.5 ppg), scoring defense (21.3 ppg), total offense (475.2 ypg) and total defense (288.7 ypg) in the SWAC.
Here is a breakdown of how the two teams match up statistically.
Alcorn State rush offense vs. North Carolina A&T rush defense
- Alcorn averages 282.3 ypg (first in the SWAC, 8th in FCS)
- North Carolina A&T limits its opponents to 72.6 yards on the ground per game (first in the MEAC, 2nd in FCS)
Alcorn State pass offense vs. North Carolina A&T pass defense
- Alcorn averages 192.9 ypg (6th in the SWAC)
- North Carolina A&T pass defense gives up 181.6 ypg (third in the MEAC)
Other Notable Stats – Alcorn State
1st in offensive efficiency in SWAC
2nd in defensive efficiency in SWAC
2nd fewest sacks allowed in the SWAC
1st in sacks (51) in SWAC, FCS
2nd in interceptions (13) with three returned for touchdowns
1st in first downs in SWAC, 8th in FCS
1st in opponent first downs in the SWAC
3rd in third-down conversions in the SWAC
2nd in opponent third-down conversions in the SWAC
2nd in 4th down conversions in the SWAC
5th in FCS in time of possession (33:00)
6th in total defense in FCS
13th in blocked punts in FCS
13th in red zone defense in FCS
20th in first down defense in FCS
10th in completion percentage in FCS
12th in total offense in FCS
18th in scoring defense in FCS
15th in defensive touchdowns in FCS
8th in first downs in FCS
22nd in third-down conversion percentage defense
20th fewest sacks allowed per game
28th in turnovers gained in FCS
Players to Watch
QB – Noah Johnson: Johnson was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year and has thrown for 1,944 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Tampa, Fla., native has also rushed for 960 yards (fourth in SWAC) and nine touchdowns, putting him at second in total offense in the conference.
RB – De’Shawn Waller: Waller was named the SWAC Newcomer of the Year, rushing for 1,048 yards (second in the SWAC) and 12 touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry and 116.4 yards per game.
RB – P.J. Simmons: Simmons has rushed for 729 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 60.8 yards per game.
RB – Marquise Forman: Forman has rushed for 292 yards and two touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry.
WR – Raidarious Anderson: Anderson leads the team in receiving yards with 502 and three touchdowns, averaging 15.7 yards per catch and 45.6 yards per game.
WR – Chris Blair: Blair has caught 39 passes for 487 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 12.5 yards per catch and 40.6 yards per game.
WR – Dayall Harris: Harris caught 28 passes for 441 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 15.8 yards per catch and 40.1 yards per game.
DE – Terry Whittington: Whittington has recorded 50 tackles with 22 being solo, 4.5 tackles per game, nine sacks (third in the SWAC) and 14 tackles for a loss (third in the SWAC).
DT – Sterling Shippy: Shippy has tallied 13.5 tackles for a loss (fifth in the SWAC), eight sacks (fifth in the SWAC) and two forced fumbles.
LB – Solomon Muhammad: Muhammad has recorded 58 tackles with 23 being solo, 5.8 tackles per game, four sacks and eight tackles for a loss.
DB – Javen Morrison: Morrison has broken up seven passes and recorded four interceptions.
DB – Qwynnterrio Cole: Cole has recorded 68 tackles with 39 being solo, 5.7 tackles per game, eight passes defended and three interceptions.
North Carolina A&T
North Carolina A&T rush offense vs. Alcorn rush defense
- North Carolina A&T averages 187.3 ypg (third in the MEAC)
- Alcorn limits its opponents to 95.7 ypg (first in the SWAC)
North Carolina A&T pass offense vs. Alcorn pass defense
- North Carolina A&T averages 182.2 ypg (fifth in the MEAC)
- Alcorn’s pass defense gives up 193 ypg (fourth in the SWAC)
Other Notable Stats – North Carolina A&T
- 1st in kickoff returns (averaging 29.6 yards per return)
- 3rd in first downs
- 1st in limiting opponents first downs
- 3rd in third-down conversions
- 1st in opponent third down conversions
- 50th in sacks
- 28th in time of possession (31:00)
- 2nd in total defense in FCS
- 43rd in rush offense in FCS
- 2nd in blocked punts in FCS
- 2nd in first down defense
- 5th in scoring defense in FCS
- 1st in third down conversion percentage defense in FCS
- 21st in fewest sacks allowed per game in FCS
Players to Watch
OL – Micah Shaw: Shaw was named the 2018 Offensive Lineman of the Year in the MEAC.
RB – Marquell Cartwright: Cartwright leads the conference in rushing with 1,002 yards, seven touchdowns, averaging 91.1 yards per game.
DL – Darryl Johnson: Johnson is second on the team in tackles with 47 total, with 29 being solo averaging 4.3 per game. Johnson is also first in the conference in tackles for a loss (18.5) and first in sacks (10.5).
DB – Timadre Abram: Abram has broken up seven passes and recorded three interceptions.
WR – Elijah Bell: Bell is the second in receptions (42) and yards (473) on the team, averaging 11.3 yards per catch and 47.3 yards per game. Bell has caught five touchdowns this season.
QB – Lamar Raynard: Raynard has thrown for 1,607 yards, 17 touchdowns, five interceptions (4th in the MEAC) and sixth in total offense.
DL – Justin Cates: Cates has recorded 3.5 sacks with two being solo.
DL – Julian McKnight: McKnight is second on the team in tackles for a loss (9.5) with eight being solo.
LB – Antoine Wilder: Wilder leads the team in tackles with 62 with 34 being solo, averaging 5.6 per game.
RB – Jah-Maine Martin: Martin is the second leading rusher on the team with 625 yards, seven touchdowns, averaging 56.8 yards per game.
WR – Zachary Leslie: Leslie leads the team in receptions (44) and receiving yards (557) and eight touchdowns, averaging 12.7 yards per catch and 50.6 yards per game.