The Celebration Bowl is the only bowl game that pits two non-FBS opponents against each other. Teams from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the FCS conferences get to showcase their talents on national television. The winners of the SWAC and MEAC get the bid to this game with North Carolina A&T and Alcorn State squaring off in Atlanta. Here is the 2018 Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl preview:
North Carolina A&T Aggies (9-2)
The Aggies have become a staple in this game as they enter their third appearance in the last four years. They clinched the spot in the game by winning the MEAC. Overall, they had a 9-2 record with losses to Morgan State and Florida A&M. Their most notable win though came over FBS-level East Carolina.
NC A&T is tied for 34th in the FCS for scoring offense at 30.6 points per game. They focus on running the ball a lot, as they have the 88th ranked passing team in the FCS.
Lamar Raynard has been the quarterback for the Aggies and has 1,373 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. He is completing 54.9% of passes this season. Raynard has four different receivers who have at least 200 receiving yards. Zachary Leslie is the leading receiver with 40 receptions for 512 yards and eight touchdown catches.
Marquell Cartwright is the team’s leading rusher with 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns. The Aggies are the 43rd ranked rushing team at the FCS level and will want to keep the ball on the ground in this game.
The Aggies allow just 13.5 points per game, which is good enough to rank fifth in the FCS. They have the best rush defense in the FCS at 72.6 rushing yards allowed per game. They are also solid in pass defense, giving up just 181.6 passing yards per game. Junior defensive lineman Darryl Johnson has 10.5 sacks on the year, making him a solid pass rusher.
Alcorn State Braves (9-3)
Alcorn State appears in the Celebration Bowl after beating Southern in the SWAC Championship Game. They have three losses on the season, but two of those came against FBS-level Georgia Tech and New Mexico State.
The Braves have a high-scoring offense that averages 33.5 points per game. Their passing offense is below average at 129.2 yards per game, but their rushing attack ranks third in the FCS at 282.3 yards per game.
Quarterback Noah Johnson has thrown for 2,079 yards with 15 touchdowns and just eight interceptions on 64% completion. Four of his receivers have over 200 receiving yards this season. Raidarious Anderson, Chris Blair and Dayall Harris are the leading receivers. Anderson has led the team with his 502 receiving yards and has added three touchdown catches.
There are two 1,000 yard rushers on the roster. Running back De’Shawn Waller has rushed for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns. Johnson has added to the running game from the quarterback position with his 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns.
Alcorn State sports the 19th best scoring defense in the division allowing 21.3 points per game. They have the fifth-best rush defense, which gives up 95.7 yards per game. They allow 193 passing yards per game, which puts them at 29th in the FCS. Defensive linemen Trey Whittingham and Sterling Shippy lead the team in sacks with nine and eight respectively.
Noah Johnson’s playmaking ability from the quarterback position will be the difference in this game. He will find his receivers, who will be able to make plays after the catch. The defenses are both solid, so if Johnson can move the ball for Alcorn State, the Braves could win.
Alcorn State Braves 21 NC A&T Aggies 17
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