Cougars Chew Up ‘Noles Win Chick-fil-A Bowl

Quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another to lead the Houston Cougars to a 38-24 win over the Florida State Seminoles before a Chick-fil-A Bowl crowd of 71,001 in the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, GA.

The Battle for Bowl Week champion strikes again. In the lore of Chick-fil-A Bowl winners, whatever team that won the Battle of the Bowl Week competition has gone on to win the game. Houston defeated Florida State 200-150 by winning the final event.stewartint

Houston didn’t need heroics in the final act, the Cougars struck first and often. The Cougars staff threw in wrinkles to their offense that kept the ‘Noles off-balance for most of the game and produced several scores. “Well, I felt like we’re not going to match up player for player,” said Head Coach Tom Herman. “So we felt like we had to use tempo to our advantage and go fast. And then we had to use some misdirection when we weren’t going fast, we had to make them, conflict them a little bit with their eyes, because they’ve got some fantastic players — first-round draft picks on that team, on defense.”
Up 7-3 through the first, Ward flipped the ball to junior wide receiver Demarcus Ayers on the end around. Naturally, the ‘Noles defense reacted to the speedy receiver. When they reacted, Ayers threw the ball to a wide open Chance Allen in the end zone for a 14-3 lead.

Florida State attempted to answer but the Cougars defense had other ideas. Junior outside linebacker Steven Taylor stripped Dalvin Cook on a tackle and senior safety Trevon Stewart recovered it at the ‘Noles 17.

Ward turned the miscue into points in just three plays. Sophomore wide receiver Donald Gage and Ayers took turns rushing the ball before Ward scampered the final 6 yards for a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter.

Eighteen seconds after the Cougars turned a fumble into a touchdown, the ‘Noles turned it over again. Sean McGuire attempted to go deep on second down but his pass intended for junior receiver Jesus Wilson was a tad bit underthrown and picked off by senior cornerback William Jackson, III at the Houston 26. It would be the first of three interceptions the ‘Noles quarterback would throw during the game.

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Florida State’s defense picked up the struggling offense holding the Houston offense to 3 and out. The half would end without either team adding to the scoreboard.
The ‘Noles came out swinging for the fences in the second half. McGuire tightened up his throws on the first drive of the second half completing 4 of 6 passes for 54 of the 59 yards. Cook, who struggled to find running room for most of the game, punched it from 1-yard out. Cook was held to 33-yards on 18 carries. Despite the 4 interceptions and an ankle injury in the first quarter, McGuire had Florida State in the ball game until the very end. The red-shirt junior from Sparta, New Jersey, completed 22 of his 44 passes for 392 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Florida State had plenty of opportunities but the Cougars secondary kept snapping the ‘Noles momentum. Stewart and Jackson each picked off McGuire twice. Both of Stewart’s interceptions ended successive Florida State drives allowing the Cougars to take a 21-10 lead into the final quarter.

There was certainly no quit in the Atlantic Coast Conference runner’s up. McGuire threw two touchdown passes to close the gap. He threw a 65 yarder to Travis Rudolph and a 14 yarder to Jesus Wilson to close within 7, 31-24.

No sooner had the ‘Noles closed the gap than the defense delivered a hard hit on Ward that knocked the Cougars playmaker out of the game again, this time for good with nearly 5 minutes left to play in the game. Unfortunately, Houston’s backup was more than ready to assume the reins. “One of our four pillars of success is what we call competitive focus, and a lot of teams talk about the backups and third-stringers preparing as if your number could be called at any moment,” said Herman. When sophomore Kyle Postma’s number was called, he stepped up and guided the Cougars to yet another touchdown. Postma broke off a 29-yard run down to the 2-yardline. The clutch play set up a touchdown run by senior running back Ryan Jackson.

Ecallentdvery time the ‘Noles thought they were making a run, the Cougars had an answer. “You know, that this team has kind of done that all year,” said Herman. He credited his team’s resilience to the level of training they have received all year. “They’ve found ways to, when their backs are against the wall, to really rise or really what we say, it’s, I think, a Navy Seal term — you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training. And the level of these guys’ training is a really, really high level.

William Jackson’s second interception of the game ended Florida State’s final drive of the game and hope for a miracle. For his two interceptions and 10 tackles, Jackson was named the Defensive MVP of the Game. Ward received the Offensive MVP for his performance.

 

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Falcons Dab on the Panthers

The Atlanta Falcons channeled a young Muhammad Ali and shook up the football world knocking off the previously unbeaten Carolina Panthers 20-13 at the Georgia Dome Sunday afternoon.

Aggies Celebrate Bowl Win

Tarik Cohen rushed for 300 of the Aggies 380 yards to give North Carolina A&T a 41-34 win over the Alcorn State Braves in the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cohen looked like a miniature Earl Campbell on TECMO Bowl with touchdown runs of 74-, 83-, and 73-yards. While the Georgia Dome and TV audience went crazy over the senior speedster, Aggies Head Coach Rod Broadway sat back with a wry smile. “We’ve said all along that Tarik is special, and the nation got to see him perform today,” said Broadway. “We’ve been saying it for three years in what he’s capable of doing. He had a big game for us and we needed it.”

The Aggies jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 74-yard run, but it wasn’t Cohen running the ball. That accolade belonged to punt returner Khris Gardin. The sophomore from Morgantown, NC came into the game needing only 2 yards to break the NCAA FCS record for punt return yards in a season. He smashed that record with two steps. The other 70+ steps only added to the new record. It was the 8th time Gardin had returned a punt for more than 40 yards this year.

North Carolina A&T had a reasonable comfortable 24-6 lead late in the second and seemed to be doing everything right. That was until Braves safety Anthony Williams picked off Kylil Carter’s pass intended for Gardin and returned it 24 yards to the Aggies 10. Alcorn State quarterback Lenorris Footman turned the int into 6 with a dump pass to Arron Baker that the stout running back was able to turn into a 10-yard touchdown.

Alcorn State closed the scoring gap down only 11 points despite a first half offensive performance unbefitting a team that ranked #2 in passing yards efficiency and #3 in rushing among all FCS teams. The Aggies defense held the Braves to 44 yards passing and 22 yards rushing.

The Braves kept the momentum going in the second half scoring the first two touchdowns. After a second field goal from Cody Jones extended the Aggies lead out to two touchdowns, Footman guided the SWAC Champs on an 8 play, 49-yard drive. FCS yards per carry leader Darren Ragsdale rushed for 18 yards on the drive and Footman caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Tollette George on the old end around throw back to the quarterback.

Footman returned the favor in the fourth quarter hitting George with an 11-yard pass to tie the game at 27-27.

The tie lasted less than 3 minutes as the Aggies stormed back down the field largely on a 52-yard catch-and-run to, who else, Cohen. Senior quarterback Kwashaun Quick capped the drive with a 1-yard dive.

After the Aggies score, the lead lasted a little long, but not much. Footman passed for 35 yards and rushed for another 4 to get the Braves down to the NCA&T 6 yard line. On first and goal from the 6, the Braves managed to gain 3-yards on 3 downs setting up fourth down and an apparent field goal attempt. Braves head coach Jay Hopson had other ideas. Holder and wide receiver Vessell Brandon rolled right and found tight end Brandon Campbell in the end zone to tie the game up at 34-34.

Whatever was ailing the offense and Footman in the first half, it definitely was gone. “Sometimes you have good halves and bad halves, that’s football, but Lenorris has been an outstanding football player for us and he did some tremendous things today in order to help us come back,” explained Hopson of his sophomore signal caller.

Footman was clicking but Cohen was fire. On second and 7, the burner flipped the switch and left the defense grasping for air as the MEAC Player of the Year rumbled 73-yards for the game-winning touchdown.

If Cohen’s run wasn’t dramatic enough, the Aggies stunted drive and resulting 6-yard punt that gave the Braves one last shot to win the game on a short field certainly should have been. Footman and company covered 41 yards in 7 plays but could not bang out the last 9. The Aggies defense came up with 4 big defensive plays to shut the door and clinch the win.

With 75 points on the scoreboard and every butt still in its seat at the final horn, it was safe to say that bowl organizers had indeed got what they wanted. It wasn’t all love getting this game to sit well with the fan base. When the announcement was made that the conference winners from the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) would meet in an end of year winner take all Black College Football Championship game, the message boards lit up. Some saw it as a reboot of the Heritage Bowl while fans from the MEAC cried foul at the decision to opt out of the FCS playoff system.

With a bigger payout to both schools ($1 million each), John Grant, Executive Director of the Celebration Bowl assured detractors this bowl game was going to change everyone’s perception of the contest. Both coaches and players were sold on the game. “We gave the TV audience a good show and they should be happy with the Celebration Bowl,” said Hopson. “Hopefully, this game will lead to bigger and better things for the Celebration Bowl and hopefully, both schools did their part in making this an outstanding football game.” “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve done in my four years of college,” said North Carolina A&T senior cornerback Tony McCrae. “It was a great experience.” His sentiments were shared by Braves strong safety Warren Gatewood. “Making it to the Celebration Bowl is an accomplishment in itself,” said Gatewood. “It was a really good experience and I’m going to take a lot from it.

 

Offensive MVP – Tarik Cohen, RB, NCA&T
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Defensive MVP – Denzel Jones, MLB, NCA&T

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Bucs Sweep Falcons, Streak at Five

Strong Showing Sends Wolves to Semis

West Georgia’s Wolves scored 35 unanswered points, including 21 in the second half, to defeat Tuskegee 35-6 and advancing to the semi-final round of the NCAA Division 2 playoffs.

Homegrown quarterback Dallas Dickey threw for three touchdowns and 398 yards on 16 completions. Qa Walker and Shaq Hall accounted for the lion’s share of the yards with 153 and 141 respectively. Walker’s yardage resulted from three catch and runs that went for 66-, 55-, and 32-yards, the last two on the same 89-yard drive.

Billed as a match-up between two hard-hitting teams, the game lived up to its intensity despite the final score. The sounds of pads popping echoed amidst the cacophony of cheers and music. You won’t be able to find it on any of the stat sheets but the exhaustion on the faces of the players as they gingerly returned to the locker room after the game showed otherwise.

Tuskegee grabbed the lead early capitalizing on middle linebacker Jewell Ratliff’s timely hit on Shaq Hall crossing over the middle. The hit knocked the ball to the turf and into the clutches of sam-backer Osband Thompson at the Wolves 33 yard line. West Georgia made the Golden Tigers work for every yard except for 15 which was donated due to a personal foul. Quarterback Kevin Lacey stretched his lanky frame the final 1-yard to give TU its first and only lead of the game.

Lacey’s touchdown might as well been smelling salts. Dickey and Company answered the challenge with a quick-striking 5-play, 74-yard drive in under 2 minutes. The Carrollton High product completed two passes to Hall to land on the Tuskegee 35. The fifth and final play caught the crowd and the Golden Tigers defense off-guard. Rolling to his right Dickey stopped, planted and threw a perfect pass to Brandon Walton all alone inside the 10-yard line of the home sideline. The 6’-6” Walton took three loping strides and evened the score.

Wolves middle linebacker Gabe Freeman made sure the Golden Tigers wouldn’t answer back on the ensuing drive, sacking Lacey for a 9-yard loss on third and 4.

Another offensive possession produced another quick strike touchdown. Dickey hit Walker on the post and the speedy receiver did the rest outrunning the defense for the 66-yard score.

Tuskegee was not without its chances in the game. On two occasions, the Golden Tigers let potential scoring drives slip through their fingers. Lacey guided the offense deep into Wolves territory on their first offensive possession of the second quarter. After Dennis Norfleet was tackled for a 7-yard loss by cornerback Marcus Sayles, cornerback David Singleton picked off Lacey’s at the 6 to end the threat.

Senior safety Carlos Hutton took the inside position at the 11-yard line to intercept a pass from Lacey intended for senior wide receiver Travis Hawkins that ended yet another Golden Tigers threat early in the fourth.

Hutton’s pick knocked the wheels, doors, and windows off the Tuskegee playoff bus. Devontae Jackson helped the Wolves capitalize on the turnover scoring his second touchdown of the game to go along with 71 yards on the ground. The touchdown gave West Georgia a commanding 28-6 lead and clearance to turn the canines loose on defense.

After allowing Lacey and Desmond Reece to link up for a 24-yard pass play, West Georgia’s defense pinned back their ears sacking Lacey on the next three downs.

Dickey added one more touchdown, a 40-yard pass to Hall, to put the finishing touches on the quarterfinal win.

West Georgia will travel west to Maryville, Missouri to face the NCAA’s top-ranked NW Missouri State. The undefeated Bearcats defeated conference rival Emporia State 38-17 on Saturday afternoon.

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