The College Football Bowl Season is now here and kicking off the 2nd season is The Celebration Bowl live from The Georgia Dome. This game brought together two major HBCU powers in North Carolina Central from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Grambling State Tigers representing the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Two contrasting styles were meeting in Hotlanta and it was bound to be a great start to bowl season.
Grambling started out using what got them to 10-1 all season, its high powered offense led by Quarterback DeVante Kincade and on its 1st possession they moved the ball quickly down the field in three plays but an interception by Eagle Strong Safety Alden McClellon stopped the threat and was a huge momentum shift early as many predicted the Tiger Offense would be too much for Central.
As Central took over on offense, they began to matriculate the ball down the field using screens and quick slants to drive deep in Grambling territory. They almost found paydirt but a drop by Wide Receiver Quentin Atkinson from Quarterback Malcolm Bell caused the Eagles to settle for a Brandon McLaren 23-yard field goal, putting them up 3-0 early in the contest.
It turned into a defensive slugfest for the rest of the half, with each team exchanging possessions. Grambling seemed to abandon the running game even though it showed early signs of working with long runs by RB Martez Carter. Top NFL prospect for Grambling WR Chad Williams was an absolute force early but the Central defense adjusted and the offense sputtered, missing an early field goal attempt by Jonathan Wallace. The Central Offense did not fare much better as Bell kept the offense going at times primarily with his legs but the offense could not find its was within the 30 yard and in mark and they would also miss a field goals. The half ended with the same 3-0 score.
After an opening possession punt to start the 2nd half by North Carolina Central, Grambling went to the ground game with Reggie Kelly getting huge chunks of yards. Martez Carter finally broke through on a 32-yard touchdown run and with Wallace’s extra point, the Tigers took the lead 7-3 with 9:14 in the 3rd quarter. After a stalled possession for Grambling, Central took over and Malcolm Bell was sacked and stripped by Arkez Cooper. The fumble was recovered by LB Malcolm Williams and the Tigers started deep in Eagle territory. After a roughing the passer penalty by Central, Grambling drove to the Eagle 7 but a false start penalty and stop on a Kincade scramble, the Tigers were only able to muster a 26 yard Wallace field goal, putting them up 10-3 with 2:50 left in the 3rd quarter.
On Central’s next possession, Malcolm Bell guided the offense down to the Tiger 39, and they decided to go for it on 4th and 2. His pass fell incomplete on a questionable non-pass interference call and possession was turned over to Grambling. They were driving as the quarter ended.
Grambling started the 4th quarter on the Central 36-yard line, but after several penalties that negated an amazing catch by Verlan Hunter, the Tiger drive stalled and they were forced to punt. Markez Carter took the punt at the Tiger 48 and returned it to the Eagle 11-yard line. The Tigers got it down to the 2 but the Eagles stopped Grambling on 4th and 2. After a couple of traded possessions, the defensive battle ensued with each team showing glimpses of driving, especially Grambling, but timely stops kept the offenses at bay. But then with 6:42 left in the contest, Bell dropped back and heaved a 46 yard pass to LaVontis Smith to get them into Grambling territory. However, after a couple of plays, Bell was intercepted by Grambling Free Safety Jameel Jackson to end the scoring threat for the Eagles. However, after a couple of plays, Bell was intercepted by Grambling Free Safety Jameel Jackson to end the scoring threat for the Eagles.
The Eagles would get the ball back with 4:01 left in the contest after a stalled drive for Grambling. Bell would hit Quentin Atkinson for a 39-yard touchdown strike. Atkinson was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and it assessed on the extra point try and to the fortunes of Grambling it was blocked by Joseph McWilliams. Central would attempt an onside kick but the Tigers recovered. The Tigers would run out the clock and secure the victory 10-9 in an exciting finish to a contest and a great start to the bowl season. This was a great display of pageantry for HBCU Football and continued success for the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.