|The Aggie Way|
|MEAC champ N.C. A&T aims for another HBCU title|
|Published Wednesday, December 5, 2018 12:09 am|
|PHOTO | KEVIN L. DORSEY|
|North Carolina A&T earned the outright MEAC championship and a third Celebration Bowl berth in four years with a 45-0 win against rival North Carolina Central in Durham.|
A new coach produced similar results for North Carolina A&T football.
Sam Washington led the Aggies to a fifth straight MEAC football title in his first year at the helm and the Celebration Bowl for the third time in the game’s four-year history. They’ll face SWAC champion Alcorn State Dec. 15 in Atlanta for the annual bowl season kickoff. The Aggies, 9-2, are No. 1 in the Box To Row coaches and media polls, while 8-3 Alcorn State is second.
“We had a roller coaster season,” said Washington, who took over for Rod Broadway, who coached A&T to the school’s first 12-0 campaign before retiring. “We had some ups and downs. We started out on a very high note and were able to get two big wins very early and then we had a few injuries and a little bit of this and that and we had to regroup, so to speak.”
A&T turned heads when they beat FCS power Jacksonville State and FCS East Carolina on the road to open the season 2-0, but talk of another unbeaten season ended with a one-point loss to Morgan State at home. The MEAC title was in doubt after a one-point home loss against to Florida A&M. Instead of sulking over what was lost, the Aggies focused on rebounding.
“What I was most proud of was the way those kids stuck together and worked through those trying times,” Washington said. “They were determined to have a successful season, they fought for it and they earned it.”
A&T responded with four straight wins to close the regular season, capped by a 45-0 pounding of rival North Carolina Central, while FAMU lost a pair down the stretch.
“The season went pretty well,” said senior quarterback Lamar Raynard, who is playing in his third Celebration Bowl. “We came out MEAC champion [which was] our goal, so now we’re trying to be HBCU national champion. …We’ll be ready for the task ahead.”
A&T seniors, the first Aggies to win four straight league championships in program history, provide the leadership and focus for a return to Atlanta.
“Last season was a great season,” said senior running back Marquell Cartwright, who broke the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the second straight year. “We did everything perfect and it was a great feeling, and this year we came out with the same intentions [but] it’s college football and there’s always some things that go on in the conference, games that you wouldn’t think someone would lose or wins. …At the same time we kept our mindset where we make sure we’re going to play in the postseason.”
A&T is quite experienced at postseason preparations. Over the last five years, the Aggies have played in either the FCS tournament or the Celebration Bowl, so they understand what’s at hand in Atlanta.
“We’ve already been before a couple of times, so we already know what to expect,” Cartwright said. “We’re looking forward to having a good time [but] at the same time, we’re all about business. “We’ve got to know when to be about business and when to enjoy ourselves.”
Washington’s message to the Aggies is simple: The bowl game is a work trip with a prize to be earned by the winner.
“The reward is when we get back,” he said. “We’ll reap the rewards in January. The rewards don’t start now. It’s all about labor right now, so I think they understand.”
Said Raynard: “Our guys come a pretty well each day and our coaches do a great job having us ready every day. We know it’s going to be a big game, a very exciting game, so we’re ready for that. We have to take it one day at a time.”
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