Aggies Win! NCA&TSU Undefeated National ChampionsBy Semaj Marsh, Peacemaker Sports / December 22, 2017
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There may come a time when “Mr. Undefeated” will have to relinquish his nickname before his career at North Carolina A&T is over, but with his team playing on a national stage last weekend and a perfect season hanging in the balance, Lamar Raynard was determined to make sure his moniker survived at least one more day.
Raynard, who has never lost a game as A&T’s starting quarterback, scored on a 1-yard sneak with 38 seconds left, propelling the Aggies to a 21-14 victory over Grambling State in the third annual Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 16.
The win helped preserve a 12-0 record for this first time in school and MEAC history, while also capturing the program’s second HBCU national title in three years.
“That’s where champions are made,” said Raynard who threw for 225 yards and a touchdown against Grambling, while improving his personal record to 26-0 as a starter under center. In fact, the last time he has tasted defeat as a starting quarterback came in the first game of his senior year in high school at High Point Andrews. “Everyone stepped up today. We’re always going to come together and fight, do whatever we have to do to score.”
Raynard’s game-winning plunge capped a seven-play, 56-yard drive that began with just 1:42 remaining on the clock.
A&T would never trail in the contest but thanks to the vast amount of speed and athleticism on display from the top programs in Black college football, neither team could gain much separation.
A&T running back Marquell Cartwright, who starred alongside Raynard in the backfield at Andrews, finished with 164 total yards rushing and two touchdowns to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
His 11-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter gave A&T a 7-0 lead, but the Tigers would pull even right before the half with an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive that culminated with a two-yard pass from DeVante Kincade to Jordan Jones.
Kincade was as dynamic as advertised for the Tigers, throwing for 225 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. However the majority of his damage came via the ground where he ran for 93 yards on 16 carries.
The constant pressure from the Aggies’ defensive line forced several errant throws from Kindcade on third down and limited his ability to throw the ball deep. Still, he was able to break containment time and time again, elude tacklers and pick up key first downs with his legs.
“That young man showed out. He’s a special talent,” said Broadway afterwards about the reigning SWAC Offensive Player of the Year. “One of the things we wanted to do in the game is not let him beat us with his feet. He kept a lot of drives alive with his feet. We had some chances to hit him, and we just missed him. He’s slippery. He did an outstanding job of keeping drives alive and helping them get in the end zone a couple of times.”
Defensively, A&T was led by Franklin McCain III who recorded his sixth interception of the season when he snatched down a Kincade pass in the end zone. That big play forced a touchback and thwarted what would have been the Tigers’ first go-ahead score, early in the third quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Raynard led the Aggies on a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard touchdown scamper by Cartwright.
That score would give A&T a 14-7 advantage, but Grambling would find a way to respond early in the fourth quarter, capping an 80 yard drive with a 29 yard touchdown pass to running back Martez Carter to knot the game at 14-all.
Both teams stepped up defensively from that point, including a big goal line stand by Grambling after an A&T fumble recovery. But after all the rapid shifts in momentum and riveting drama, the stage was set for Raynard’s last minute heroics.
“It’s a special group of guys,” said A&T head coach Rod Broadway who has now added a fourth HBCU national championship to his resume, including titles at North Carolina Central and Grambling. “We have a lot of talent, and that’s how you win. You win through recruiting, and we were able to hit on a lot of players who turned out to be outstanding. … What can you say? These seniors won 40 games in four years.”
A&T receiver Elijah Bell finished with a game-high 10 catches for 95 yards, helping to move the chains with a number of big third-down receptions.
Aggie linebacker Kaundric Richardson recorded a team-best six tackles and one sack.
Official attendance inside the sparkling new Mercedes Benz Stadium was listed at just 16,701, but with the stakes this high and neither team looking to give an inch, the atmosphere inside the dome was as electric as any game the Aggies have played this season.
From the naked eye it appeared A&T fans outnumbered their Grambling counterparts almost three to one.
“I want to thank all our fans,” said Raynard. “When you look at our side, it was packed out. I appreciate the fans coming out to support us. We had our ups and downs during the game, but they’re always with us. That’s the beauty of this team, we’re fighters.”