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Road to the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl

It’s an Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl rematch: Alcorn State vs. N.C. A&T

Braves win SWAC title and and now bring their high-powered offense to bowl game

Well, it’s all set. The matchup for the Dec. 15 Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta is actually a rematch: Alcorn State against North Carolina A&T, the game’s 2017 champion.

The Alcorn State Braves, champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), made it to Atlanta with a 37-28 win Saturday night against Southern University. It is their third SWAC title in five years. It’ll be the Braves’ second trip to the bowl game since it started in 2015. They were beaten by North Carolina A&T 41-34 in that game.

Alcorn State (6-1 SWAC, 9-3 overall) was led by running back De’Shawn Waller, who ran 16 times for 177 yards and three touchdowns. SWAC offensive player of the year quarterback Noah Johnson passed for 135 yards, ran for 147 yards and two scores. He was named offensive player of the game.

The Braves entered the title game ranked second in the SWAC in scoring offense (33.2 points per game), first in total offense (471.3 yards per game), total defense (allowing 283.4 ypg), rush offense (274.3 ypg) and rush defense (allowing 93.2 ypg).

“I can’t say enough about this whole group we have here at Alcorn and the way we played this game,” said Alcorn State coach Fred McNair. “We finally put together a 60-minute ball game. We’ve been expecting this the whole year and it’s been a long time coming.”

Alcorn State trailed by a point going into the fourth quarter and took the lead for good at 30-28 on Corey McCullough‘s 41-yard field goal with 11:31 left in the game. After stopping the Jaguars (7-4) on downs at the Braves 32, Alcorn State drove to the end zone in nine plays, capping the scoring on Waller’s 14-yard touchdown run up the middle of the defense.

Johnson seized control when Southern’s Ladarius Skelton was hurt in the fourth quarter. He had rallied the Jaguars from a two-touchdown deficit to take a 28-27 lead. But Alcorn retook the lead on a field goal, and on the next drive by Southern (6-2, 7-4), Skelton injured an ankle on a tackle. Skelton finished with 264 total yards, including 194 passing, and four touchdowns.

“Noah has been growing since Day One,” said McNair. “Against Georgia Tech, we stumbled a little bit, but he fought through and persevered. He’s just an excellent player and he has a great teacher in Pat White.”

McNair said he didn’t know much about the Aggies but will prepare through film study.

“We have to dissect the film, break it down, and see what they do,” said McNair. “I think it should be a great matchup.”


John X. Miller is the senior HBCU editor for Andscape. He's a father, jazz aficionado and die-hard UNC basketball fan.