Alright folks. The 3rd Annual Celebration Bowl is here. On Saturday, don't be surprised by a crowd of 40,000 to 50,000 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, as Grambling State (11-1) takes on the first North Carolina A&T (11-0) team to have an undefeated regular season since the 1940s. Tune in at Noon ET on Saturday on ABC:
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Brace yourselves for what appears to be the best Celebration Bowl matchup in its young existence. Neither team has lost to an FCS opponent (Grambling's lone loss was to FBS Tulane) and both teams have won one Celebration Bowl apiece — N.C. A&T beat Alcorn State in 2015 in the first one, and Grambling edged N.C. Central last year by blocking what would have been a game-tying extra point.
So both teams have been here, done it before. No jitters. But there's just something special on the line when you get to play in an NFL Stadium, you're playing for an HBCU National Championship Trophy, and neither team has fallen to an FCS team this year.
"It's just the atmosphere of it," said Brandon Parker, N.C. A&T's star offensive lineman and future NFL Draft pick. "It's nice to be on that scale on national television. It's a blessing, and it's always nice to play in front of a crowd that size … I like (Grambling's) effort. They play hard and you can tell they're well coached. As funny as it sounds, I like their defense. There's a lot of movement and they're not afraid to get after it."
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N.C. A&T's Lamar Raynard has been excellent in 2017 (NCAT athletics)[/credit]
One of the biggest matchups of the weekend will be how the two defenses react to Grambling State QB Devante Kincade, a former Ole Miss QB, and North Carolina A&T's Lamar Raynard. Both are rated in the national FCS Top 25 in passing yards, even while having plenty of weapons like Grambling's Martez Carter and and N.C. A&T's Marquell Cartwright in the backfield with them. Both Carter and Cartwright have been good for more than 1,000 yards of offense, so it's not all Kincade and Raynard — yet both have topped 2,500 yards passing and they've combined for 47 touchdowns passes but only 8 INTs.
"(Kincade's) a great player and has a good arm so we're going to have to shut him down on the run and pass, we have to come prepared," said N.C. A&T freshman star DB Franklin 'Mac' McCain, whose grandfather of the same name was a nationally-known civil rights activist in the 1960s. "I had a good feeling all year we were going to play Grambling. That's a matchup everybody's been wanting to see, on both ends."
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The praise was equal when HERO Sports's talked to Grambling State's leading tackler, De'Arius Christmas. He has been very impressed by what he has seen with Raynard.
"He's a poised guy … doesn't force things," Christmas said. "He lets plays come to him. That's how the good ones do it. He's the No. 1 priority to us having a successful game on defense … The team feeds off of him. There's nothing not to like about the guy, and that's why we have to be ready."
The respect is there, the hype is real, the crowd is going to be bigger than the FCS National Championship's crowd in Frisco, Texas in January. Enjoy the Celebration Bowl on Saturday, folks.
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