Grambling State is back on top of the Black College Football heap following a hard-fought 10-9 victory over North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The win was the 11th in a row for Grambling and gives the G-Men their 14th Black College Football National Championship and the first since 2008.
Grambling (11-1) entered the game ranked No. 1in HBCU polls and No. 14 in the FCS while averaging 42.5 points a game. However, the G-Men struggled to get on the scoreboard against North Carolina Central (9-3), which was ranked No. 2 among HBCUs and No. 18 in the FCS. The 10 points were 11 fewer than Grambling’s previous season low of 21 and the fewest for the G-Men since their 47-0 loss to the University of Houston on Sept. 6, 2014.
But they proved to be enough to give third-year Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs his first National Championship after taking over a team that was 1-11 in 2013 thanks to North Carolina Central receiver Quinton Atkinson’s over-exuberance.
Grambling was trying to protect a 10-3 lead in the final minutes when North Carolina Central quarterback Malcolm Bell scrambled out of the pocket and heaved a 39-yard touchdown pass to Atkinson with 2:14 remaining. Atkinson celebrated the potential game-tying play by removing his helmet.
That move drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which was assessed on the extra point attempt, and forced the Eagles to have to convert a 35-yard kick rather the normal chip shot. Sophomore defensive back Joseph McWilliams took advantage of Atkinson’s mental lapse by blocking the kick by Brandon McLaren.
Grambling recovered the ensuing onside kick and held on for the victory.
“It is a great win for our program,’’ said Fobbs. “It was one of those situations where we had to battle right down and play great defense and run the football. “That is what makes our football team a very dominant team. We are able to win in many different ways.”
The G-Men won this one on the strength of their running game and their defense. Martez Carter rushed for 109 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown jaunt in the third quarter that gave Grambling a 7-3 lead, and Jestin Kelly added 71. Carter, who also had 69 yards on returns and 23 on pass reception, ended the game with 201 all-purpose yards and was named Most Valuable Offensive Player.
“Today, we ran the football effectively, and were able to establish some drives and put what we needed to do in the end zone,’’ Fobbs said. “My hat goes off to North Carolina Central; they have a great program. It was definitely an evenly matched ball game, as you can tell by the score.”
Grambling’s defense was rock solid, especially in the second. The G-Men allowed four first downs, forced three turnovers, held the Eagles to 55 yards rushing and had two quarterback sacks in the final two periods.
The loss ended a nine-game winning streak for North Carolina Central.