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Grambling State blocks kick, stops North Carolina Central, 10-9, in Celebration Bowl

Grambling State blocks kick, stops North Carolina Central, 10-9, in Celebration Bowl
North Carolina Central running back Dorrel McClain is surrounded on the tackle by Grambling State defenders during the first half of the Celebration Bowl on Saturday. (W.A. Bridges Jr. / Associated Press)

Grambling State won the Celebration Bowl when it blocked an extra-point kick set back 15 yards by an excessive celebration with just over two minutes left, holding off North Carolina Central 10-9 Saturday. 

Joseph McWilliams surged in and swatted Brandon McLaren's 35-yard try with 2:14 remaining to preserve the Tigers' edge.

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Down 10-3, North Carolina Central had a chance to pull even after Quentin Atkinson shook loose and caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from scrambling Malcolm Bell. But Atkinson took off his helmet while reveling with the crowd, drawing a personal foul penalty.

Martez Carter's 32-yard touchdown run to open the second half gave Grambling State (11-1) its first lead. The Tigers earned the bowl bid by winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship to complete a dramatic resurgence by the program.

The Eagles (9-3) won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference under third-year coach Jerry Mack. 

Trailing 3-0 at halftime, Grambling State opened the third quarter with a run-first plan. Following five power runs by 240-pound running back Jestin Kelly, the 175-pound Carter looked extra-quick on his sharp cuts through the line on his touchdown run for a 7-3 lead.

The Tigers threw only one play-action pass for a short gain on the touchdown drive.

Grambling State's defense later set up more points. Arkez Cooper sacked Bell, forcing a fumble recovered by Malcolm Williams at the Eagles 25. The turnover set up a 26-yard field goal by Jonathan Wallace. 

McLaren's 23-yard field goal provided the only points of the first half. The kick capped a 13-play drive and followed a dropped 6-yard pass in the end zone by Atkinson on third down.

McLaren missed a 34-yarder late in the half.

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