North Carolina A&T football coach Rod Broadway says he is not looking for redemption Saturday. His focus is solely on winning a national championship.
N.C. A&T will play Alcorn State in the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The game pits the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) champion against the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) champion for the HBCU national championship.
The game begins at noon on ABC and officially opens the college bowl season.
“We’ve moved on past that game, and we’re trying to win a national championship,” Broadway said Wednesday by phone at the airport.
“That game” was the Aggies’ regular-season finale against rival North Carolina Central. With sole possession of a conference title on the line for the second straight season, NCCU upset nationally ranked N.C. A&T, 21-16. The loss created a three-way tie for the title among N.C. A&T, NCCU and Bethune-Cookman. But the Aggies won the tiebreaker and the right to advance to the Celebration Bowl by virtue of its winning percentage, even though the Eagles finished the regular season with seven straight victories.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not going to get a chance to go, but it is nothing against A&T,” said NCCU coach Jerry Mack, who is the first coach in Eagles history to win 15 games in two seasons. “We didn’t do some of the things that we were planning to do, but we finished the season strong and we won the MEAC for a second straight season.”
The Aggies (9-2) will take on an Alcorn State team (9-3) that is the first back-to-back SWAC champion since Grambling State won three in a row from 2000 to 2002.
The Braves have the top defense in the SWAC, holding opponents to 274 total yards per game. The unit will try to put the breaks on the MEAC’s top rusher Tarik Cohen, who was named the conference’s offensive player of the year for the second consecutive season.
We’ve moved on past that game, and we’re trying to win a national championship.
NC A&T coach Rod Broadway on loss to NC Central and bid for national title Saturday
Cohen, a junior from Bunn, has rushed for 1,136 yards and 12 touchdowns to became N.C. A&T’s all-time leading rusher.
The Aggies’ special teams also have been special with the emergence of All-American sophomore return specialist Khris Gardin. Gardin led the FCS in punt yardage with 22.2 yards per return, and is just two yards shy of breaking the FCS record of 667 punt return yards in a season held by Montana’s Tuff Harris.
“He is a weapon back there for us,” Broadway said. “He is the kind of guy who is going to make you pay for kicking it to him.”
But with the top rushing offense in the SWAC, the Braves have some weapons, too. Alcorn State is averaging 309 yards rushing per game, mainly with backfield duo Lenorris Footman and Darryan Ragsdale. They will go against an Aggie defense that is No. 1 in the MEAC.
“We must stop the run; they run the ball very well,” Broadway said. “We can’t have a lot of turnovers, and we’ve got to tackle well. The month off gave the players time to heal, so I’m anxious to see how we play.”