After winning the first-ever Division I-AA championship game on this day 45 years ago, Florida A&M has once again reached the mountaintop, beating Howard Bison 30-26 to win the Celebration Bowl.
The win is just the second for the SWAC in the Celebration Bowl, snapping a five-game losing streak.
Florida A&M running back Kelvin Dean was named the game’s Offensive MVP after finishing with three receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Jeremy Moussa accounted for 289 passing yards, completed 19 of 32 passes, and scored three touchdowns.
Jah’Marae hauled in five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown while also registering a 48-yard punt return. Marcus Riley gave the team a boost on special teams with two 41-yard kickoff returns.
SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Major was named Defensive MVP, posting six total tackles, a tackle for loss, and the game-sealing interception.
“We’ve had to handle adversity from week one of fall camp,” said Major about his team fighting through adversity to win the Celebration Bowl. We go up [to] Jackson, we put up 28 in the first half, but the second half wasn’t our best. We’ve had lulls in the season where we’ve had to fight back and make things happen. So we’ve seen it before; we’ve practiced and been well coached on it. It was pretty easy, I would say, to get back to who we are and play Rattler football.”
Howard got off to a fast start with a 63-yard return on the opening kickoff by Ian Wheeler. The Bison offense capitalized off this, capping off the opening drive with an eight-yard touchdown run by Jarett Hunter.
Feeding off the energy provided by the opening score, the Bison defense came up with a huge play, producing a strip sack, again setting the offense up with great field position.
Florida A&M’s Dark Cloud defense looked to have turned the momentum in their favor with a scoop ‘n score, but it was called back due to a face mask penalty.
Howard took advantage of the call, scoring on a three-yard run by Kasey Hawthorne to take a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
According to Howard head coach Larry Scott, getting off to a fast start in this game was a product of what he has been preaching to his team all season.
“That’s kind of our motive. We know we want to start fast, persevere through, and finish,” said Scott. When you play a championship game, you have to be able to sustain, keep the discipline, keep the accountability all the way through. That’s the task for 60 minutes to play all the way through the flows of the game, the ups and downs. I think we did that a little bit just fell a little short in the end.”
The Rattlers began the second quarter scoring their first points on a three-yard touchdown run by Terrell Jennings.
However, just as the Rattlers were beginning to build momentum after getting a critical third down stop on Howard, the offense had a big pass play for a first down called back due to a blindside block.
This call would be consequential as Darrian Brokenburr recorded a sack on Jeremy Moussa in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Penalties marred the Rattlers’ next offensive drive, which ended with another turnover, this time on an interception.
The Rattlers’ defense returned the favor with an interception, recording an interception leading to a field goal and scoring 16-10 at halftime.
After an uneventful third quarter, Florida A&M turned the game in its favor, scoring two straight touchdowns on passes from Moussa to Kelvin Dean taking a 24-16 lead.
Howard quickly took the lead back, scoring 10 unanswered points, culminating in a pick-six by Carson Hinton. However, this did not last long, as FAMU came right back, scoring on a 38-yard touchdown pass, making the score 30-26 with 5:46 remaining.
From there, Florida A&M’s vaunted ‘Dark Cloud’ defense finished the job by recording two interceptions down the stretch to secure the win.
Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons spoke highly of his defense’s ability to make winning plays and their impact down the stretch in this game. He even spoke up for his top defender against doubters.
“When we scored that last touchdown, and I looked up at the clock, and I said, ‘We put it in our defense’s hands,’ I relaxed and took a deep breath because I knew those guys would stand up and answer the call like they’ve done all season,” said Simmons. “Just so proud of that unit, and if anybody in the SWAC questions whether [Isaiah] Major is the best defensive player in the country, they weren’t watching today’s game.”
Florida A&M ended the season with a 12-1 record and improved to 30-6 since entering the SWAC in 2021.
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