ATLANTA - The Celebration Bowl may be played in a new venue this year – the newly built Mercedes-Benz Stadium – but the two teams playing in this year’s edition of the bowl game are no strangers to the city of Atlanta.
The game is usually held in the Georgia Dome, which was recently imploded. Now, Grambling State (11-1) from the Southwestern Athletic Conference and North Carolina A&T (11-0) from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference will battle in the third edition of the bowl game Dec. 16 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Both teams showcase a solid resume for wins and share a connection with the city in that both have played in the bowl game in its first two years of existence.
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After beating SWAC East champion Alcorn State a year ago, Grambling earned a spot in the 2016 Celebration Bowl and defeated North Carolina Central 10-9. A year later, the Tigers' 40-32 win against Alcorn for a second straight year in the SWAC Championship gave the Tigers their third straight appearance in the bowl game.
Ranked 12th in FCS, Grambling enters the bowl game riding an 11-game winning streak, with its only loss coming in the opening week of the season against Tulane. The Tigers have won 21 straight games versus FCS opponents and will look to continue their streak against a very dangerous Aggies team that features a solid offense and defense, much like the Tigers.
The Tigers feature a talented quarterback in DeVante Kincaid, who has thrown for 2,680 yards, 21 touchdowns, three interceptions and has rushed for six touchdowns through 12 games this season. Offensively, the Tigers are ranked 39th in the FCS in pass offense (232 yards per game) and 55th in total offense per game (373).
North Carolina A&T, which also is on an 11-game win streak that includes an FBS victory against the University of North Carolina, defeated in-state rival and conference foe North Carolina Central 24-10 to secure its second appearance in the Celebration Bowl. The Aggies played in the inaugural Celebration Bowl in 2015 when they defeated Alcorn State 41-34.
The Aggies are led by quarterback Lamar Raynard, who has torched defensive secondary’s all season and has played a major part in North Carolina A&T’s perfect season to this point. Raynard has thrown for 2,707 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ranks third in the FCS in passing efficiency.
If the Aggies hope to win and become the only MEAC team to record a perfect season since the conference began play in 1971, Raynard will need to bring his best game against a Tigers defense that leads the FCS in sacks (45) and is second in tackles for a loss (97).
Like Grambling, North Carolina A&T’s defense has played an integral part in the team’s success this season. The Aggies are tied for second in allowing the fewest points per game for their opponents (12.3) and four players finished in the first-team All-MEAC on defense.
The margin of the victory in the first two bowl games has been less than four points.
Grambling and North Carolina A&T have played each other seven times overall, and the Tigers lead the series 4-3. The last time the two teams played was in 1996, when the Aggies defeated Grambling 17-12.
Will it be another high-scoring offensive match like 2015 or a physical, defensive match like 2016?
That will be decided when the two teams take the field in less than two weeks.
Kickoff is set for noon and the game will be televised on Channel 2.
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