Florida A&M defeats Howard in thriller to claim HBCU national championship

The 2023 edition of the Celebration Bowl featured a matchup of two prominent historically Black colleges and universities — Florida A&M and Howard University.

This year marked the ninth year of the HBCU college football national championship. It also marked the first time either team advanced to the championship. 

The Florida A&M Rattlers defeated the Howard Bison by four points in a back-and-forth thriller at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. 

Florida A&M does have a history of winning championships. Exactly 45 years ago, the Rattlers defeated the UMass Minutemen to claim the 1978 NCAA Division I-AA championship.


Florida A&M entered Saturday’s game with a 10-game win streak after defeating Prairie View A&M 35-14 Dec. 2 to earn its first Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) title. Howard had a two-game winning streak heading into the Celebration Bowl. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) holds a 6-1 edge over opponents from the SWAC in the bowl.


The Bison got off to a strong start with an impressive 63-yard kick return. Howard’s offense capitalized on the strong field position. Running back Jarett Hunter scored a touchdown on an 8-yard run to give the Bison an early 7-0 lead.

Florida A&M quarterback Jeremy Moussa fumbled on the following possession, and Howard recovered the ball at the 29-yard line. The Bison took advantage of another short field and increased their lead to a commanding 14-0 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Howard quarterback Quinton Williams appeared to struggle to find any type of rhythm. He finished the game with three interceptions, throwing for just 106 yards.

Florida A&M did manage to produce a pair of scoring drives in the second quarter to cut the deficit. Howard entered the locker room at halftime with a 16-10 lead.

In the fourth quarter, Howard kicker Aaron Bickerton made a 40-yard field goal to bring the Bison within five points with 7:55 left in the game. 

Howard took the lead on the next drive when defensive back Dylan White intercepted Moussa’s pass and sprinted into the end zone. The Bison briefly held a 26-24 lead following the 27-yard pick-six and the extra point.

Moussa quickly bounced back and found wide receiver Jah’Marae Sheread on a flea-flicker trick play for a go-ahead touchdown. The Rattlers’ two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, which kept the score at 30-26 with 5:46 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Florida A&M linebacker Isaiah Major picked off Williams with 1:45 left to seal the victory for the Rattlers.

“You can’t win many games when you turn the ball over three times,” Williams said. “That’s on me.”

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