Then he did the unthinkable.
North Carolina Central's senior wide receiver made one of the best catches of the game, drifting in the end zone before falling to his knees and hauling in a 39-yard pass from Malcolm Bell late in the fourth quarter. Only then he went to celebrate, snatched off his helmet and drew a flag. A few moments later, the long extra point was blocked and the comeback fell short as Grambling State survived the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, 10-9, winning the HBCU national championship in the process.
The irony of it all, losing the Celebration Bowl because of an excessive celebration.
It didn't matter that North Carolina Central kept the reigning SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Devante Kincade in check.
It didn't matter that North Carolina Central held an offense that ranked in the top five of the FCS and averaged 41 points per game to one field goal and one touchdown.
It didn't matter because the Eagles' offense would shoot itself in the foot time and time again on Saturday in Atlanta. And it wasn't just Atkinson's excessive celebration. There were a number of dropped passes, Bell threw a pair of interceptions, and Brandon McLaren sailed a field goal attempt wide left near the end of the first half.
NCCU's Atkinson after the game on the EP penalty: "I kind of felt at fault for that...I want to apologize to my teammates." #abc11— Ngozi_ABC11 (@Ngozi_ABC11) December 17, 2016
Grambling State's offense certainly didn't win the game. If you wanted to find rhythm from the HBCU powerhouse, you had to wait until halftime when the Marching Tiger Band took the field. Because the football team couldn't move the ball with any consistency against two-touchdown underdog North Carolina Central.
Kincade, who was unable to add to his FCS-best 31 passing touchdowns and threw an interception, was bailed out by his defense. North Carolina Central was able to muster just 301 total yards, a paltry 55 of which came from the ground game.
By beating North Carolina Central, Grambling State laid claim to its 14th HBCU national title during the Sheridan Poll era, which began in 1992.
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