Three fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Jeremy Moussa propelled Florida A&M (FAMU) to a 30-26 win over the Howard Bison in the Celebration Bowl.
It was the first time either the Bison or the Rattlers had reached the season’s Black College Championship. FAMU was stuck behind North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, and South Carolina State during its tenure in the MEAC.
Howard and FAMU entered the game with losses in their last trips to Atlanta. Howard lost to Alabama State in the 2022 MEAC-SWAC Challenge and FAMU lost to Southern 21-14 in the 2012 Atlanta Football Classic.
Since joining the SWAC in 2021, the Rattlers found themselves stuck behind the Deion Sanders-coached Jackson State Tigers. This year, the Rattlers were able to get over the hump dispatching the Tigers 28-10 in the Orange Blossom Classic.
“At the start of the season, we knew right out of the gate with the opener in the Orange Blossom Classic,” said Rattlers Head Coach Willie Simmons. “We knew Jackson State was a good football team, and we knew whoever won that game was going to have a leg up.”
The Bison made sure North Carolina Central would not return to Atlanta to defend their 2022 title with a resounding 50-20 night in the woodshed.
Howard surged to a 14-0 lead in the first 5 minutes of the game. Ian Wheeler gave the Bison great field position with a 63-yard return of the opening kickoff. Jarrett Hunter capped the 4-play drive with an 8-yard touchdown run up the middle.
The high-octane Rattlers offense stumbled on the third down of their first possession. Bison linebacker Christian White dropped Moussa 17 yards behind the line and knocked the ball away into the hands of teammate Carson Hinton.
FAMU’s defense forced Howard’s offense into a fourth-and-six decision from the Rattlers’ 33. A face mask penalty erased all that hard work and gave the Bison new life at the 18-yard line.
Sophomore running back Eden James carried it down to the three-yard line on carries of 10- and 5 yards. Wide receiver Kasey Hawthorne took the direct snap from the wildcat formation straight through the teeth of the defense to put the Bison ahead 14-0.
The orange and green put together a 54-yard drive to close out the first quarter and open up the second quarter with a 3-yard touchdown run from Terrell Jennings.
Defensive lineman Darrian Brokenburr extended the Bison’s lead sacking Moussa in the end zone for a safety as US Vice President Kamala Harris cheered from her seat in the Mercedes Benz suite.
After a scoreless third, the contenders combined for 30 points.
Kelvin Dean blew by the secondary for touchdown receptions of 21 and 53 yards. His first touchdown gave the Rattlers their first lead of the game. Dean’s second touchdown gave them some breathing room.
The explosiveness of the Rattlers’ receiving corps was too much for the Bison secondary. Dean, Kamari Young, and Jah’Marae Sheread combined for 11 receptions and 221 of the Rattlers’ 289 total receiving yards. Young was the only one of the trio without a touchdown.
Howard’s receivers combined for 106 yards and no touchdowns. Nah’Shawn Hezekiah led all Bison receivers with 46 yards.
The defense provided the Bison’s only touchdown of the second half. Carson Hinton jumped the route for a 27-yard pick 6 and the lead.
Sheread gave the Rattlers the lead back with a 38-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter.
Quinton Williams threw interceptions to end both Bison drives in the final minutes.
Florida A&M celebrated its first Celebration Bowl win, the SWACs second in seven tries.
All photos by Jason McDonald, JM Photos for CORE360 Sports.