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Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl is set: Grambling State vs. N.C. Central

Tigers win SWAC championship in dramatic 27-20 victory

Grambling State University needed big-time performances from several players to come from behind to beat Alcorn State University for the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championship and earn a spot in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.

The Tigers had to climb out of a 17-0 halftime deficit in order top the Braves, who were the defending SWAC champions, 27-20.

Grambling State running back Martez Carter was really special. Carter, who was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player, broke the conference championship record for all-purpose yards with 348. He showed quick and brilliant open-field moves against the Braves’ defense. Carter had a spectacular 31-yard touchdown to put the game away in the fourth quarter. He had 14 carries for 136 yards, five receptions for 66 yards and 142 return yards. Carter has provided the Tigers with a consistent ground attack this season. He has gained 782 yards on 103 carries with nine touchdowns.

Besides Carter’s offensive prowess, Grambling State’s outstanding quarterback DeVante Kincade displayed his strong arm, connecting on 15 of 22 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He threw two touchdown passes in the second half. Kincade hooked up with wide receivers Verlan Hunter for a 29-yard scoring strike and Dominique Leake for a two-yard touchdown catch.

Alcorn State's Javen Morrison (45) tries to intercept a pass to Grambling State's Chad Williams (10) during the third quarter of the Southwestern Athletic Conference NCAA college football championship game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Houston.

Alcorn State’s Javen Morrison (45) tries to intercept a pass to Grambling State’s Chad Williams (10) during the third quarter of the Southwestern Athletic Conference NCAA college football championship game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Houston.

Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP

Of course, Kincade’s top receiver was Chad Williams, who led the Tigers with six receptions for 103 yards. Williams, a first-team All-SWAC selection, has 86 receptions for 1,294 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.

Kincade, the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, has been getting it done all season long. He has completed 202 of 309 passes for 2,870 yards with 30 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also had 242 yards on 92 carries while four touchdowns. Kincade ranks third in passing efficiency (172.8) among FCS quarterbacks and No. 1 in the SWAC.

On defense, Grambling State came up with some big stops thanks to linebackers De’Arius Christmas and Arkez Cooper. Christmas had 12 total and seven solo tackles and one sack. Cooper chipped in with 10 total and five solo tackles with one sack. In the secondary, cornerback Guy Stallworth did a great job of playing the run, recording nine total and seven solo hits. Christmas was the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the game.

Grambling State's Trent Scott, left, and Tyler Oliver kiss the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship trophy after defeating Alcorn State in the NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Houston.

Grambling State’s Trent Scott, left, and Tyler Oliver kiss the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship trophy after defeating Alcorn State in the NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Houston.

Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP

Now, Grambling State (10-1 overall, 9-0 league) will battle North Carolina Central University (9-2 overall, 8-0 MEAC), the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, in the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Tigers’ championship and place in the Celebration Bowl comes just three years after the program forfeited a game because of a players protest.

It should be a great matchup on the sideline and under center. Grambling State’s Broderick Fobbs and N.C. Central’s Jerry Mack are two of the best coaches in the FCS. Both teams feature great signal-callers in Grambling State’s Kincade and N.C. Central’s Malcolm Bell.

Donald Hunt, a writer for the Philadelphia Tribune, is a longtime ESPN contributor who has covered Historically Black Colleges and Universities.