Celebration is defined as “the act, process of showing appreciation, gratitude and/or remembrance, notably as a social event.” December 19, 2015 was truly a celebration by definition. This date marked, not only the start of the college football bowl season, but the inaugural college football Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, GA. It was showing appreciation to two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) teams that won their respective conferences. The game featured the Alcorn State Braves from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) verse the North Carolina A&T Aggies from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Both teams were grateful for the opportunity to show all 35,000 in attendance and the millions watching on ESPN that HBCU schools can play football as well.
The game started off quickly with the Aggies scoring with less than two minutes into the game on a 74 yard punt return for a touchdown. Not to be out done, the Braves answered with an 84 yard punt return for a touchdown within three minutes. Maybe the smallest person on the field, but definitely the one with the biggest impact, Tarik Cohen began to put his stamp on the game. The Aggies’ running back rushed for two back-to-back touchdowns of 74 and 83 yards respectively in the first quarter. This gave them a 21-6 first quarter lead. Both defenses settled down in the second quarter. The Braves got an interception that led to a touchdown and the Aggies scored on a field goal, which gave them a 24-13 halftime lead.
The third quarter scoring would be a repeat of the second, with the Aggies scoring on a field goal and the Braves scoring a touchdown (27-20). The fourth quarter would provide offensive explosion and never quit attitude from both teams. Two touchdowns apiece were scored by the Aggies and the Braves in the fourth. The latter having the ball first and goal with four opportunities to win the game but coming up 9 yards short. The Aggies prevailed 41-34 and became the undisputed first ever HBCU and Celebration Bowl Champion. Tarik Cohen, a name that was and will be celebrated, was the offensive Most Valuable Player with 295 yards rushing on 22 carries and three touchdowns.
After a close tough loss, and disappointment on his face, one of the Braves players said – “It was a really good experience and I’m going to take a lot from it, from going to the Civil Rights Museum to the extra bonding time I had with my brothers.” That perspective expression shows the remembrance of that day goes far beyond football. This is why we celebrate the HBCU!