ATLANTA — NC A&T scripted a perfect ending to a perfect season Saturday by scoring in the final minute to beat Grambling 21-14 at the Celebration Bowl to win its second Historically Black Colleges and Universities national championship in the last three years.
Quarterback Lamar Raynard scored on a 1-yard sneak with 38 seconds remaining at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to complete the first unbeaten season in MEAC history.
The Aggies (12-0) took over near midfield and with just under two minutes remaining and drove 56 yards on seven plays for the decisive touchdown. It’s a drive almost ended before it had a chance to get started.
On the first play, Raynard dumped a pass over the middle to running back Marquell Cartwright, who dropped the ball as he turned upfield. Believing it was a fumble, Grambling picked it up and returned it into A&T territory,
The play was ruled an incomplete pass on the field and upheld upon review, allowing the Aggies to retain possession.
While the turnover that didn’t happen helped save the day for A&T, it was the Aggles’ defense that helped put it in position to earn the victory by taking the ball away three times — including an interception in the end zone by freshman defensive back Mac McCain on the opening possession of the second half.
It was McCain’s sixth interception of the season.
A&T took advantage of the break by driving the length of the field for the go-ahead touchdown, with Cartwright breaking into the open field for the final 30 yards. SWAC champion Grambling (11-2) tied the game on a 29-yard touchdown pass from its conference Player of the Year quarterback, DeVante Kincade, to receiver Martez Carter.
Kincade passed for 225 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 95 more yards to provide the Tigers with the majority of their offensive production.
Raynard, the MEAC Player of the Year, threw for an identical 225 yards and a score while his former high school teammate Cartwright accounted for 110 yards on the ground. Wide receiver Elijah Bell caught 10 passes for 95 yards, including an acrobatic catch that set up the winning touchdown on a play in which Raynard faked spiking the ball to stop the clock.
The Aggies outgained Grambling and held an 11-minute edge in time of possession, but couldn’t take full advantage by missing two field goals, fumbling inside the 10 and coming up short on a fourth down play at the Tigers’ 1.
A&T’s first touchdown came on an 11-yard pass from Raynard to Cartwright in the second quarter. The Tigers tied the game just before halftime on a 2-yard pass from Kincade to Jordan Jones.
Saturday’s victory was the Aggies’ second in the three-year history of the Celebration Bowl. They also beat Alcorn State in 2015 while claiming previous HBCU national titles in 1990 and ’99. Grambling won last year’s event with a one-point victory against NC Central.