MEMPHIS – At this rate, North Carolina A&T might as well just start scheduling Atlanta’s Celebration Bowl as the unofficial 12th game on its annual schedule.
For the fourth time in the game’s five-year history, the Aggies capped their season with a Celebration Bowl victory to claim a black college football national championship. They completed an unprecedented three-peat with last Saturday’s record-setting 64-44 win over Alcorn State in front of 32,968 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
As a result, the Aggies (9-3) emerged as the No. 1-ranked team in both the Boxtorow national HBCU Coaches and Media polls released on Monday. Alcorn State (9-4) finished fourth in the final media poll after winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference three of the last four years.
Florida A&M (9-2) settled into the No. 2 spot in both national polls after posting the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s best record at 7-1, including a midseason win over N.C. A&T. But FAMU was ineligible for a conference title and postseason play because of NCAA sanctions. N.C. A&T finished the season with a 9-3 record and added the 2019 championship to national titles it also won in 2015, 2017 and 2018 to go a perfect 4-0 in trips to the Celebration Bowl.
“You can’t spell Atlanta without A&T,” Aggies players chanted Saturday as they put on national championship hats and shirts immediately after the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The Aggies and Braves combined to shatter Celebration Bowl records for points (108), yards (1,034) and touchdown passes (nine) – with a 49-point shootout highlighting the third quarter. Although both teams dominated their respective conferences the latter half of the decade, N.C. A&T left no doubt this time that it is indeed the king of black college football.
Three of the Aggies’ four Celebration Bowl wins came against the Braves, with the previous two matchups in 2015 and 2018 decided by a combined nine points. But N.C. A&T was clearly the superior team and kept one of the NCAA’s most impressive runs at any level alive and strong.
“Throughout the year it can be taxing, but we know there is a huge reward at the end of the tunnel,” Aggies coach Sam Washington said of balancing the relief of meeting annual championship expectations with the joys of winning another title. “It’s worth the journey. What we did at the Celebration Bowl is historic. There are not many teams on any level at any sport that can say they won their sport’s top honor back-to-back-to-back, three years in a row.”
Indeed, it’s been one heck of a ride for Aggie Pride.