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North Carolina A&T wins inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl

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The North Carolina A&T Aggies and Alcorn State Braves got the 2015 bowl season underway with the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl from Atlanta.

The game served as the championship game for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). The Aggies posted a 41-34 victory to finish the season at 10-2. Alcorn was 9-4.

A&T, champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 74-yard punt return touchdown by Kris Garden. Alcorn State, champions of the Southwest Athletic Conference, responded with an 84-yard punt return by Anthony Williams, Jr. with 10:01 remaining in the first period. The two-point conversion try failed.

The Aggies stretched the lead 24-6 lead with 11:31 left in the second quarter on a 45-yard field goal by Cody Jones. The two teams traded second quarter punts and interceptions, but Alcorn returned their interception to the A&T 10, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Lennoris Footman to Aaron Baker to bring the Braves within 24-13 at the half.

After another Jones field goal stretched the Aggies’ lead to 27-13, Alcorn came back with two touchdowns on their next possession to tie the game. Footman, a native of Monticello, Fla., was on the receiving end of a halfback pass from Tollette George to bring the Braves within 7. Footman then led Alcorn on an 11-play, 69-yard drive capped by Footman’s 11-yard TD pass to George.

A&T responded with a 6-play, 89 yard drive to regain the lead. The key play was a 52-yard hook-up between quarterback Kwashaun Quick and Tarik Cohen. Quick scored on a 1-yard keeper with 10:17 remaining in the game.

Alcorn, champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, responded again. Nine plays and 67 yards later, they again tied the game, capped by a 3-yard TD pass from Brandon Vessell to Brandon Campbell.

The Aggies took the lead for good in lightning quick fashion. Cohen took off on a 73-yard run with 4:17 remaining to put his team on top. But there was more drama to come.

With 20 seconds remaining, the Braves had a first-and-goal on the Aggies’ 9-yard line, but four incompletions later, North Carolina A&T claimed the first Celebration Bowl trophy.

Cohen had a monster game for the Aggies. He rushed for 295 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. Quick passed for 149 yards.

Footman threw for 144 yards and two touchdowns for Alcorn State. He also led the team in rushing with 62 yards.

The teams were fairly even on most categories of the stat sheet, but what made the difference for North Carolina A&T was their dominance in running the ball. They outgained Alcorn State 366-104 on the ground.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

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