Lamar Raynard passed for 292 yards and two touchdowns and Malik Wilson returned a kickoff for the game-sealing touchdown Saturday as North Carolina A&T held off Alcorn State to win the Celebration Bowl 24-22, and the Aggies captured their second straight HBCU national championship and third in four years.
The Celebration Bowl kicks off the bowl season by matching up the champions of two historically black leagues, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Raynard, a senior who finished his career with a 35-2 record as a starter, did most of his damage in the first half with touchdown passes of 17 yards to Zachary Leslie and 27 yards to Elijah Bell as North Carolina A&T (10-2) built a 17-3 lead in the second quarter.
Alcorn State (9-4) stormed back in the third quarter. De’Shawn Waller tallied 116 of his 167 rushing yards on just four carries in the period while playing about six miles east of where he grew up.
The Braves pulled within 17-16 on a 30-yard touchdown run by quarterback Noah Johnson, the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, and a 29-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in the quarter. Johnson rushed for 120 yards and passed for 128.
Wilson countered immediately, fielding the short kickoff on the left side of the field. He took off diagonally toward the middle and then cut up the right sideline for a 79-yard score.
It was the senior’s school-record fourth kickoff return for a touchdown this season alongside scores of 98, 99 and 100 yards.
Johnson scored on a 59-yard option keeper early in the fourth quarter to pull the Braves within 24-22.
Johnson rolled out on the ensuing two-point conversion try, and his pass to a sliding Chris Harris was ruled incomplete. Alcorn State punted on its next possession with 5:55 remaining and didn’t get the ball back as North Carolina A&T put together a game-ending 11-play drive.