By: Greg Collier
Oh, what a day. Oh, what a game. What a football experience. That featured the best of the best in a battle for supremacy. I did not say Black College Football. This was a great football game regardless of conference or league.
The Cream of the Crop will always rise to the top. That sentiment was on display at the 2017 HBCU Championship Game better known as the Celebration Bowl. The desired matchup was the undefeated (11-0) MEAC Champs NC A&T Aggies vs. the SWAC Champs Grambling State (11-1). Grambling was defending the throne against the original champs who became the MEAC’s only undefeated champions capturing the prize 21-14.
Both teams featured the best from their respective conferences. Ole Miss Transfer QB Devante Kincade the current back-to-back two-time SWAC offensives player of the year. The triggerman of the Tigers high powered offense in two seasons he threw for an astonishing 52 touchdowns passes and 7 interceptions. Today he was picked once.
They also had the Defensive player of the year in Senior LB De’Arius Christmas who came to Mercedes Benz stadium looking for presents he unwrapped 8 tackles 5 solos in a losing effort.
NC A&T’s QB Lamar Raynard is the current MEAC Player of the year he passed for 29 touchdowns and threw only 5 interceptions this season. He had two picks today but completed 23-43 for 225 yards with 1 touchdown and survived to lift the trophy.
Other top-level talents on the field were the first team all-Conference running backs one on each team and both coaches were their league’s coaches of the year. Then there was the drama. On fourth down and goal from the two-yard line with the score tied 14-14 Coach Broadwater decided to play big boy football and went for the win. The Aggies came up short. The G-men stood the test of time. Great stop but caught in a bad position with their backs slammed against the wall at the wrong 1-yard line. A false start moved them back to the ½ yard line. Devante Kincade worked his magic to avoid would-be tacklers in the end zone which would have been an early Christmas present of 2 points if sacked. Instead, he danced and connected on a 17-yard pass to Calief Samon down the sideline. Unfortunately, his magic tricks failed on 3rd and 9. He could not pull the rabbit out of the hat.
Martrell Cartwright started the drive as if though he was shot out of a cannon gaining 20 yards. Lamar Raynard pressed a bit with a bad throw that resulted in an interception. It was the equivalent to a punt Grambling took possession at their 13-yard line. The Aggies defense stood tall. NC A&T took possession with 1:42 remaining and put together a 7 play 56-yard game winning drive. The key play was that same middle screen that worked well all day. This time Marquell Cartright took it for 19 yards. Raynard found redemption on a beautiful back shoulder throw to Elijah Bell to reach the 3-yard line. They ran another play to reach the 1-yard line. The next play “bull back sneak” translation offensive line bulldozer the Grambling defensive line so Raynard can score the game-winning touchdown. NC A&T took the lead 21-14 with .38 remaining. A less than desireable squib kick gave Grambling a last-second glimmer of hope at the 40-yard line, but they had no timeouts.
Due to a controversial incomplete pass that looked like an interception which would have put Grambling in scoring position for the victory. However, after further review, it was incomplete costing Grambling their final timeout. NC A&T maintained the ball.
Coach Rod Broadway continues to “make chicken, he does not cook hamburgers, nor does he attempt to cook steaks, his teams play one way, shut down the run and if you are going to beat us beat us passing” is his famous quote. Kincade completed 19-36 for 225 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ran for another 93 yards, but it was not enough to carry his team to victory.
In a wonderful display of class; Coach Fobbs said “they were the better team, as I said earlier, whichever team made the least mistakes, would win the game. They made more plays than we did. This game came down to 8 or 10 key plays, they made them, and we didn’t, they deserve to be champs.” The fourteen points his team allowed off turnovers were the difference.
Aggies started a bit anxious getting a false start by QB but what is expected when you have had a month off. Their initial drive was halted by LB Leon Smalls when he sacked the QB and forced the unsuccessful 41-yard field goal attempt. The Gmen took the field fast and furious running no huddle. All it took was for me to see DeVante Kincade scramble out of the pocket once to witness what the hype was all about those feet are made of magic know wonder his social media account is titled @KincadetheHulk. Both teams went deep early trying to stretch the field, but neither made contact they said they were mirror images of each other.
Grambling first drive lasted only 4 plays for 6 yards while the Aggies went 12 plays for 52 yards. If the game was measured by the tone, the first quarter was favorable to Aggie Nation.
Grambling found themselves backed up against a wall from a punt that forced them to play at their goal line then the Hulk Kincade went to work first eluding a sack then getting out of the pocket to pick up a first down. The Ole Miss transfer is simply a cut above the rest of the talent on the field.
Lamar Raynard, the Aggies QB, had some magic of his own, he looked down the mouth of a fire-breathing lineman spun out and found his receiver downfield. I see why coach Broadway said, “ I like my QB no disrespect to the other guy, but I will take mine.”
The games’ first big play came on an Interception by DeAndre Hogues at the Grambling14 yard line as the Aggies were easing into scoring position. Grambling gave it right back on a fumble by #4 RB Martez Carter. As good teams do, they made them pay in the worst way, points off a turnover. The well-disguised screenplay right up the gut worked perfectly for Marquell Cartwright who sneaked in behind the big boys caught the pass and made one guy miss at the goal line with a jab step before the touchdown CELEBRATION go underway with 4:58 remaining in the second quarter. 5 plays 25 yards 2.26 was all it took.
Kincade produced two key scrambles one of 6 yards another for 17 yards then he went into a bag of tricks escaping two tacklers circling from a sack in the backfield. He gained 12 more yards down to the 2-yard line. NC A&T called a timeout to stop the runaway train, but the horn sounded on the next play when he tossed the ball to a wide-open Jordan Jones on the rollout for the touchdown to make the score 7-7.
It took 8 plays to go 70 yards in 2:22 to answer the bell. The Aggies responded fast play, moving the ball quickly with .43 on the clock. The drive ended on a blocked field goal attempt that excited the G-Men and gave them momentum at the half with the score tied 7-7.
Grambling came out of the locker room on a mission stream rolling until a touchdown-saving pick by Franklin McCain just inside the goal line. NCA&T made them pay again this time driving 80 yards in 7 plays before Cartwright blasted 29 yards to score at the pylon. Aggie Nation was
On top 14-7 and trying to blow the clock forward.
Needing a score to close the gap Kincaid directed traffic to start the 4th quarter on a key run. Then he hit Martez Quarter who skipped and hopped in for the 29-yard touchdown. It was an impressive 7 plays for 80 yards 2:19. He delivered just like the pizza man 14-14. Grambling got the stop they needed, but bigfoot James Mackey landed a punt down to their 6-yard line. Another goof, DE Sam Blue hit Lyndemian Brooks, the ball laid on the turf, Kenneth Melton came up with the treasure.
NC A&T head coach Rod Broadway has that it factor. He has taken a program from 0-27 won the initial Celebration Bowl, missed a third straight appearance by one game last year and returned this year only to become the first coach in MEAC history to finish as the undefeated champions.
He is amazed by the sustained success of Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, and that is the type of excellence he is chasing. Coach Broadway take a look around I think you are well on the way. Congratulations to the NC A&T Aggies and Aggie Nation you are the Undefeated Champions.
All Photos by: William Curtis