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N.C. A&T back in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl

FAMU loss to Bethune-Cookman ends Rattlers’ season

For the third time in four seasons, North Carolina A&T will represent the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, courtesy of a loss by Florida A&M in the Florida Classic on Saturday.

Bethune-Cookman beat the Rattlers 33-19, and junior safety Tydarius Peters was a big reason why. He had a huge game, leading both teams in total tackles with 9.5 and coming up with game-saving interceptions on back-to-back drives.

“I said it yesterday: The team that makes the fewest mistakes, made the most plays, will win the game,” Bethune-Cookman coach Terry Sims said after the game. “And this guy [Peters] to my immediate right, he made the play to put the cap on the game.”

Peters’ first interception happened with only 3:30 left on the clock. The Rattlers (5-1 MEAC, 6-5 overall) were mounting a potentially game-tying drive when Peters picked off a pass intended for FAMU receiver Xavier Smith.

The Wildcats (5-2, 7-5) followed Peters’ big play with a quick three-and-out on offense, and the Rattlers got one last chance to tie the game. FAMU drove all the way to the Bethune-Cookman 11 when the junior safety made his final pick, this time taking it 90 yards for a touchdown to ice the game.

“When they snapped the ball, I seen Marques [Ford] getting up to the quarterback, and I just stayed on the inside hip of the receiver,” Peters said after the game. “I saw the quarterback trying to rush the ball, so I hurried up and broke on him, and he threw it right to me.”

Peters has been a force on defense for the Wildcats all season, coming into the game with 36 unassisted tackles and two interceptions. Now, thanks to Saturday’s performance, Peters ends the season leading the team in solo tackles and interceptions.

First-year FAMU head coach Willie Simmons credited Peters and the Wildcats’ defense for a well-played game but felt mistakes on offense were the real problem for the Rattlers.

“We just missed too many opportunities at the end of the day, and you can’t beat a good football team if you miss opportunities like that,” said Simmons. “Just too many opportunities to take over the game, and we missed those. … When you do that … you come up short a lot of times.”

Bethune-Cookman’s win Saturday extends its win streak to eight consecutive in the Florida Classic and gives it a second-place MEAC finish.

Aggies dominate Eagles

N.C. A&T, tied with Florida A&M in the MEAC at 5-1 going into Saturday’s game, dominated N.C. Central 45-0 in Durham in the Aggies-Eagles Classic, finishing the regular season at 9-2.

“We came into the game saying it’s time for us to put it all together,” A&T coach Sam Washington said. “We have not realized our potential. I think we’re even better than we played today. But the continuity was there. The focus has been there the entire week. They didn’t look back.”

QB Lamar Raynard was 16-of-23 passing for 257 yards and two touchdowns, along with nine carries for 78 rushing yards. He’d missed the previous game against Savannah State with a concussion.

Wide receiver Elijah Bell caught 10 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back Marquell Cartwright had 110 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, giving him 1,002 rushing yards this season.

The defense had an equally dominating game, holding the Eagles below 100 yards of total offense, including an amazing minus-21 rushing yards on 23 carries.

The Aggies’ opponent in the Celebration Bowl will be decided in the Dec. 1 Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championship game between the conference’s divisional winners. Alcorn State, a 24-3 winner against Jackson State on Saturday, won the East title and will play the winner of this weekend’s Bayou Classic between Grambling State and Southern University in New Orleans.