Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl: Alcorn State Braves vs. North Carolina A&T Aggies
Date: Dec. 19, Noon ET on ABC
Location: Atlanta | Georgia Dome
Alcorn State Braves
Best moment: Alcorn State won its second consecutive SWAC title when it dismantled Grambling State in the SWAC championship on Saturday. The 49-21 win healed the deep wounds that remained from a homecoming loss to Grambling State in mid-October. In the rematch, Alcorn State made sure there would be no repeat of that October performance. It turned a 28-14 halftime lead into a four-touchdown margin midway through the fourth quarter to claim a second straight conference championship.
Lowest moment: It would be that midseason loss to Grambling State, a game in which Alcorn State also led 28-14 at the half. In the first meeting, however, Alcorn State blew the lead and lost in overtime 35-34. Costly second-half fumbles allowed Grambling State to climb back into the game, but the pivotal mistake came in overtime when Alcorn State’s game-tying extra point was blocked.
Key player: North Carolina A&T will have its hands full no matter who is under center for Alcorn State. Quarterback John Gibbs Jr. was the 2014 SWAC co-offensive player of the year, but a lingering ankle injury cost him the second half of this season. Sophomore Lenorris Footman started in his place, and Alcorn State’s backup quarterback tallied more than 300 total yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the SWAC championship. Footman has started since Gibbs was injured Oct. 31. Footman is about as balanced a passer and rusher as a player can get. On the season, he has 962 yards passing and 961 yards rushing.
Motivation level: High. Alcorn State will play in the inaugural Celebration Bowl. The game’s mission is to highlight the MEAC, SWAC and the pageantry of HBCUs. It is the first bowl game of the postseason. The Braves have a chance to win 10 games in back-to-back seasons, too.
-- Jared Shanker
North Carolina A&T Aggies
Best moment: Beating South Carolina State 9-6. There was some high drama in the closing minutes as North Carolina A&T pulled off a comeback win. Leading 6-2 with time winding down in the fourth quarter, South Carolina State faked a punt. North Carolina A&T linebacker Denzel Jones intercepted the pass attempt and put the Aggies in scoring position. True freshman quarterback Kylil Carter threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Khris Gardin with less than two minutes to go for the lead. The victory was sealed when South Carolina State kicker Tyler Scandrett missed a 33-yard field goal attempt as time expired. It was the Aggies’ first win at South Carolina State since 1969.
Lowest moment: Losing to rival North Carolina Central in the regular-season final. For the second straight season, the Aggies could not claim the outright MEAC championship because they lost to their rivals. They ended up in a three-way tie, but at least that did not prevent them from getting to the bowl game. Still, North Carolina A&T entered the contest on an eight-game winning streak, with its only loss to North Carolina. But the Aggies could not slow down Dorrel McClain, who had 167 yards rushing and a touchdown in the 21-16 N.C. Central victory.
Key player: Tarik Cohen. Cohen was selected the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league in rushing with 1,248 yards -- his third straight 1,000-yard season. He also became the school's career rushing leader (3,736 yards). His average of 113.5 yards per game ranks seventh in the nation among FCS players. This season, he has done it rushing behind Brandon Parker, who was named MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year.
Motivation level: High. Not only are the Aggies playing in the inaugural Celebration Bowl, they are going to want to end the season the right way -- with a win -- after a heartbreaking loss to N.C. Central. A victory would also give the Aggies their first 10-win season since 2003.
-- Andrea Adelson