ATLANTA – The beginning ended up being the end.
North Carolina A&T concludes the 2018 HBCU football season where it began as the No. 1 team in both the BOXTOROW Coaches and Media Polls following last Saturday’s 24-22 victory over Alcorn State in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.
The Aggies, who finished 10-2, received every first place vote in both national HBCU polls.
North Carolina A&T Aggies wide receiver Elijah Bell #13 scores a touchdown against Alcorn State Braves in the second quarter of the Celebration Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 15, 2018 in Atlanta, GA. Photo by Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports.
This is Sam Washington’s first national championship as head coach at N.C. A&T in his first season since being promoted to replace Rod Broadway. Washington was named BOXTOROW Coach of the Year last week and also named MEAC Coach of the Year. The Aggies have now won HBCU national championships in 2018, 2017 and 2015. Washington was defensive coordinator for the first two titles.
“It’s important to our program to play in the postseason, (and) it is cream on top when you win in the postseason and you win the Celebration Bowl,” Washington said. “It is a well-deserved honor for this program and these young men. We fought through a lot of adversity this year.”
The Aggies were ranked atop the polls for a majority of the season with the exception of two weeks, after losses to Morgan State and Florida A&M by a combined total of four points. The Aggies never fell below No. 2 and regained the top spot in Week 10 with a win over Norfolk State, coupled by then-No. 1 Florida A&M’s loss to Howard. N.C. A&T never relinquished its top spot in the national polls afterwards.
The Celebration Bowl pitted the consensus top two teams among Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the game didn’t disappoint. The MEAC champion Aggies led 17-6 after dominating the first half, but the SWAC champion Braves rallied in the second half until N.C. A&T sealed it by running out the clock on the game’s final drive to preserve the two-point victory.
It just came down to a two-point conversion we thought was a catch. As hard as these young men played, for it to come down to a play like that is (tough). But we played a great football team. Give them credit. We’ll learn from this.Alcorn State coach Fred McNair
Senior quarterback Lamar Raynard passed for 292 yards and two touchdowns to win Celebration Bowl MVP honors, and capped his career by leading the Aggies to a 34-2 record as a starter. Alcorn State, which finished 9-4, outgained the Aggies 451-324 in total yards but couldn’t overcome a sluggish first half or a controversial “no-catch” ruling on a two-point conversion late in the game.
“We didn’t execute the way we should have in the first half, but in the second half we made some adjustments and played a lot better,” Braves coach Fred McNair said. “It just came down to a two-point conversion we thought was a catch. As hard as these young men played, for it to come down to a play like that is (tough). But we played a great football team. Give them credit. We’ll learn from this.”
Alcorn State finished second in the Boxtorow national polls and SWAC runner up Southern was third.
The BOXTOROW HBCU FCS coaches poll and the media poll is administered by FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW. The coaches poll is voted on by the HBCU Football Championship Subdivision coaches, and the media poll is voted on by media members around the country who cover HBCU football.
“The rewards of winning that type of game extend to other honors like winning the BOXTOROW title again,” Washington said. “BOXTOROW does an excellent job of highlighting black college football, so we’re proud to have this honor.”
MikeCheck HBCU Final 2018 Power Poll
1. North Carolina A&T (10-2):
Having won four MEAC titles and three Celebration Bowl national championships over the past five seasons, it’s safe to assume the Aggies haven’t had to rebuild in a long time. But coach Sam Washington must replace perennial All-Conference stars in QB Lamar Raynard, RB Marquell Cartwright, OL Micah Shaw and return specialist Malik Wilson among others. N.C. A&T is always prepared to reload, but next season’s path through the MEAC will be treacherous.
2. Alcorn State (9-4):
There is absolutely no shame in losing on a controversial 2-point conversion call to arguably the best team in modern HBCU football history. But those aren’t comforting words right now to Braves coach Fred McNair or QB Noah Johnson. The good news is that Johnson, the SWAC offensive player of the year, and RB De’Shawn Waller, the SWAC newcomer of the year, return with a shot to continue the Braves’ SWAC East dominance. They should be favored to make it back to Atlanta.
3. Southern (7-3):
After a tough stretch of NCAA issues that led to scholarship sanctions a few years back, coach Dawson Odums showed he’s finally got the Jaguars firmly headed in the right direction. Beating in-state rival Grambling in the Bayou Classic and getting to the SWAC title game have now set next season’s expectations much higher for Southern. With QB Ladarius Skelton ready to build on a remarkable finish after taking over midseason, the Jaguars should hit the ground running in 2019.
4. Bethune-Cookman (7-5):
The Wildcats proved to be capable of knocking off the best, yet losing to just about anyone in 2018. But coach Terry Sims talked about raising the bar after ending the season with an impressive win streak, capped by a victory over Florida A&M that knocked his in-state rival out of a MEAC title. Can the Wildcats move beyond spoilers and become true title contenders next year? The MEAC/SWAC Challenge against Jackson State to open the 2019 season will be a telling next step.
5. Bowie State (10-3):
The MEAC and SWAC have dominated the HBCU polls as the lone conferences playing at the FCS level. But graduating senior QB Amir Hall elevated Division II Bowie State into the discussion of HBCU’s elite teams with a record-setting four-year run as one of the most prolific players the NCAA has seen on any level. The Bulldogs will have huge shoes to fill after losing the CIAA’s career leader in passing yards and TDs. But their success with Hall should have a huge impact on recruiting.
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