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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Aggies ‘Celebrate’ Championship

Courtesy NC A&T Sports Information / December 23, 2015

Aggie senior linebacker Denzel Jones was named the Celebration Bowl’s Defensive MVP. Jones finished with seven tackles, 4 solo, 3 assists and one interception. Photo by Joe Daniels/Carolina Peacemaker

Aggie senior linebacker Denzel Jones was named the Celebration Bowl’s Defensive MVP. Jones finished with seven tackles, 4 solo, 3 assists and one interception. Photo by Joe Daniels/Carolina Peacemaker

ATLANTA – There is a saying that permeates inside the Bryan Fitness and Wellness Center and Aggie Stadium on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University.

If something good happens, keep paying. If something bad happens, keep playing. There was plenty of good and bad that happened to N.C. A&T during the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Saturday, Dec. 19. The Aggies withstood it all in a nationally televised game on ABC to win the school’s third HBCU National Football Championship with a 41-34 win over SWAC champion Alcorn State at the Georgia Dome.

The Aggies are now 4-4 in bowl games all-time and now will forever hold the distinction of being the first-ever Celebration Bowl Champion. For N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway, it was his first career postseason win.

Junior Tarik Cohen was introduced to the nation over the summer thanks to the fact his videos of doing backflips while catching one, sometimes two footballs went viral and earned him live appearances on ESPN’s SportsCenter. But if some around the country thought his talents only consisted of backflips, then they saw a whole new side of him last Saturday.

Cohen rushed for 295 yards and three touchdowns and had some amazing runs that had Twitter nation buzzing. In fact, the Celebration Bowl was ESPN’s second-highest trending event on Twitter. Cohen played a big role in that.

“We’ve said all along Tarik’s special,” said Broadway. “I guess the nation got a chance to see what we’ve been looking at; what he is capable of doing for three years now. He had a big game for us, and we needed it.“

But Cohen wanted to talk about the guys who weren’t being discussed on social media.

“Without my offensive line none of this would have been possible,” said Cohen. “I felt like they played a tremendous game. All week they have been hearing how they are holding the team back. A lot of people want to say they are the soft point of our team. So they took that and ran with it, and showed everybody on national TV they are not to be messed with.”

It has been a season of good and bad that would perhaps derail most teams without the Aggies motto. Not only had the play of the offensive line been brought into question, but the offense as a whole. Late in the season the Aggies struggled offensively in a 9-6 win at S.C. State. The following week the offense didn’t blowout the Delaware State Hornets the way many thought it would. Then came the loss to N.C. Central where the Aggies scored 16 points, seven of them off of a kickoff return.

It led prognosticators to believe the combinations of the offensive struggles late in the season, Alcorn’s powerful running game and the disappointment of losing to their archrival, N.C. Central two years in a row, would be too much for the Aggies to overcome. Too bad they didn’t know the motto. The Aggies compiled a season-high 543 yards of offense. Senior quarterback Kwashaun Quick threw for 149 yards on 11-for-16 passing with no interceptions.

“Central wanted to beat us a little more than we wanted to beat them and that’s the honest truth,” said senior cornerback Tony McRae. “Making the bowl game gave us a chance to refocus and become hungry again.”

The Aggies finished the season 10-2 overall. It is their first 10-win season in 12 years. It marks the third time in school history the Aggies have recorded double-digit wins in a season (1999, 2003, 2105).

Not bad. Only good.

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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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