Celebration Bowl: North Carolina A&T vs. Alcorn State

Updated: December 13, 2018, 2:31 PM ET
Associated Press

The Matchup -- MEAC champion North Carolina A&T (9-2) vs. SWAC champion Alcorn State (9-3) in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl

Kickoff -- Noon ET Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

Coverage -- ABC

Series -- Tied 1-1 (last meeting: North Carolina A&T won 41-34 in the inaugural Celebration Bowl on Dec. 19, 2015)

Coaches -- North Carolina A&T: Sam Washington (10-2, one season); Alcorn State: Fred McNair (21-14, three seasons)

3 Players to Watch -- Alcorn State: QB Noah Johnson (186 of 290, 2,079 yards, 15 TDs, 8 INTs; 130 carries, 960 yards, 9 TDs), RB De'Shawn Waller (167 carries, 1,039 yards, 12 TDs); DE Terry Whittington (50 tackles, 14 TFL, 9 sacks); North Carolina A&T: QB Lamar Raynard (133 of 237, 1,607 yards, 17 TDs, 5 INTs; 48 carries, 154 yards, 3 TDs), RB Marquell Cartwright (184 carries, 1,002 yards, 7 TDs), DE Darryl Johnson Jr. (47 tackles, 18.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks)

The Skinny -- North Carolina A&T has won two of the first three Celebration Bowls, including against Alcorn State in 2015. As usual, the MEAC champion is coming off a four-week layoff leading into the bowl game, while the SWAC champ, Alcorn State for a second time in four years, played in its conference championship game two weeks ago. Alcorn, the designated home team, should travel well support-wise. Which team controls the ground game is pivotal. Alcorn ranks eighth in the FCS in rushing yards per game (282.3) behind Waller, Johnson and P.J. Simmons (729 yards, 4 TDs) and three offensive linemen who were first-team All-SWAC. But the Braves are facing an N.C. A&T defense that ranks second nationally against the run -- just 72.6 yards per game. Defensively, Alcorn State leads the nation with 51 sacks and 111 tackles for loss, led by DE Whittington and DT Sterling Shippy. N.C. A&T's Raynard is a pocket passer, so the Braves will take their shot with the pass rush. The Aggies average 187.3 rushing yards per game, and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Cartwright is averaging nearly 137 rushing yards with five TDs in the last three games. Like Alcorn, the O-line has its share of studs with Marcus Pettiford and Micah Shaw. Johnson is the MEAC defensive player of the year and the secondary is loaded with Mac McCain III and Timadre Adram. Malik Wilson is a potential difference maker on kickoff returns, with three TDs this season.

Prediction -- The first three Celebration Bowls have gone to the wire and were decided by a combined 15 points. This should be close as well. Alcorn State, 28-24.

Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index


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