GREENSBORO — The last practice in the city limits is in the books, a Tuesday morning session on the artificial turf inside Proehlific Park.

And now N.C. A&T is headed for Atlanta, on the road Wednesday for Celebration Bowl week festivities and a date with Alcorn State.

No. 11 A&T (9-2) will play Alcorn State (9-3) in the bowl game at noon Saturday at the Atlanta Falcons' home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's a matchup of the MEAC and SWAC champions, a black college football championship game.

A&T has already won two of the first three Celebration Bowls, and the experience counts, Aggies coach Sam Washington said.

"Experience is huge," Washington said. "It's more so for the little stuff. The guys know the things not to do. They understand what the expectations are. They know how we travel and the conduct in which we travel. Those are the things experience really helps with. They understand the situation."

Nine of this year's Aggies played in the first Celebration Bowl against Alcorn State. Four of those seniors – left tackle Marcus Pettiford, left guard Micah Shaw, linebacker Deion Jones and wide receiver and kick returner Malik Wilson – started that 2015 game.

"I'm very proud of this group of guys," Washington said. "... They persevered. They continued to play and they believed in each other. And look where we are now.

"This is one of the most decorated classes in college football, and that's anywhere in the country. These young men already have five championships (three MEAC, two HBCU) under their belts with the opportunity to play for another national championship. There's a lot to be said for that. It's been a joy and an honor to work with them, and we still have some unfiinished business."

Time off

A&T locked up its berth in the Celebration Bowl on Nov. 17 with its victory at N.C. Central coupled with Florida A&M's loss in the Florida Classic.

Alcorn, meanwhile, won the SWAC title just last week.

So does the extra time off help or hurt the Aggies?

"It seems to have worked in our favor," Washington said. "We've done this two years prior to this, and we have a system in place that we use. It works for us. It gives us an opportunity early to go back and work on some of that fine-tuning stuff, fundamentals, until we find out who we are playing. Once Alcorn won their conference, then we were able to directly work on schematic stuff and address the things they do very well."

Knowing the opponent too soon, Washington said, could create problems.

"We're working on some of the things Alcorn is capable of doing, and some things they may do," Washington said. "That's the part I don't like. There are too many 'ifs' involved. When you have all that time to prepare, you find yourself all over the place, trying to stop everything. That's not good, and that's the only downside to having all the time off."


Alcorn State's Noah Johnson will get most of the attention this year.

A finalist for the national Walter Payton Award and Deacon Jones Trophy, Johnson is a true dual-threat quarterback who is among the national leaders in both pass completion percentage and rushing yards per carry.

But A&T senior Lamar Raynard, who led the Aggies to a 12-0 season and a Celebration Bowl victory last year, was playing his best football of the year as the regular season drew to a close.

"He just settled down and stopped pressing," Washington said. "He wasn't trying to do too much. He just took what they gave him. They're going to give up something. So you just need to be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

"Lamar is a level-headed young man, and he knows what he needs to do to be successful. And that is to remain cool, calm and collected, and take what they give him. We don't need him to be supernatural. We just need him to play a good, solid football game and make sound decisions."

Washington paused, and grinned, then quickly added: "And give the ball to (running back Marquell) Cartwright."

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Contact Jeff Mills at (336) 373-7024, and follow @JeffMillsNR on Twitter.

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