- By FRANKIE MANSFIELD Moultrie News Nov 18, 2017
First Baptist coach Johnny Waters is doused following his team's win over Trinity-Byrnes on Saturday in Columbia to win the SCISA Class AA Championship.COLUMBIA — It was just 12 months ago that First Baptist celebrated its first postseason win in school history. Head coach Johnny Waters gathered his team in a shadowy end zone of an outdated recreation field and promised it was just the beginning. He assured his upstart Hurricanes that even better days were still ahead.
On Saturday, Waters stood drenched in Gatorade at midfield of Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. His team, clad in purple with gold medals swinging from their necks, swarmed around. Waters hoisted a glistening state championship trophy toward the stadium lights with one hand and then raised two fingers in the air with the other.
“A lot can happen in 12 months, I guess,” Waters said. “It’s been a heck of a ride. The first is always special, but, I don’t know, this one might be even sweeter.”
First Baptist captured its second straight state championship with a 35-20 win over Trinity-Byrnes in the SCISA AA title game Saturday.
The Hurricanes rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to close the season with their 11th straight victory. “This is a special group,” Waters said. “I know everyone says that, but this really is. You know, we were down at halftime. No one panicked. We all stuck together, believed in each other, and you saw the rest.”
No one player has been more responsible for First Baptist’s surge of success than running back Michel Dukes. The 200-pound Power 5 recruit was just a 150-pound eighth-grader when First Baptist stumbled through an 0-10 season following a jump from eight-man competition in Waters’ first year at the helm. Dukes kept his faith in Waters over the next three years, and Saturday, he embraced his coach with a prolonged squeeze as the final seconds ticked down. “It seems like it’s all happened so quick, but it’s been a long process,” Dukes said. “We stuck with coach Waters’ plan. He’s had the vision. He always has a plan.”
It was Dukes that Waters sought out in the locker room at halftime as First Baptist faced a 20-0 deficit — its largest of the season. First Baptist held possession for just 5:28 of the first half as Trinity-Byrnes controlled the clock with its double-wing, ground-based attack. Frustration led to the Hurricanes losing more yards to penalties than they gained on offense. The Titans wree slamming First Baptist up front, leaving Dukes minimal room to manage less than 40 yards by halftime. “Coach pulled me aside and told me it was my time,” Dukes said. “It was powerful. I took it to heart and it was on from there.”
Dukes struck less than three minutes out of halftime, taking a pitch 55 yards to the end zone for the Hurricanes’ first score. The highlight run ignited First Baptist’s sideline with new energy. The Hurricanes’ defense had been pushed backward most of the first half as the Titans smashed 250-pound fullback Shamar Byrd up the middle time and again. First Baptist showed a different edge in the second half, though, holding Trinity-Byrnes out of its red zone through the final two quarters. The Hurricanes' defense finished with three forced turnovers, all three fumble recoveries by Jackson Watson.
“We were so angry,” First Baptist senior linebacker Timmy Campbell said. “We knew we were better than that. We stayed focused, though, one play at a time. We never gave up - we just did what we had to do.”
First Baptist faced fourth-and-3 at midfield early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Tremez Brown hit Tylan Major on a crossing route for a 47-yard touchdown that pulled the Hurricanes within one score. Brown, a first-year starting quarterback, transferred to First Baptist this offseason because he, like Dukes, believed in Waters. He pointed over to Waters and the Hurricanes sideline following his strike to Major with a newfound swagger that was absent in the first half. “I wanted everyone to know we had this,” Brown said. “This is why I came here to First Baptist, to play for coach and win state championships. That pass to Tylan, after that, I knew we had it.”
Dukes pulled First Baptist ahead with a 15-yard touchdown run with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter. He tacked on scores of 5 and 10 yards over the next five minutes, seemingly growing stronger as the Hurricanes fed him nearly every play. Dukes finished with 185 total yards, averaging 10.1 per carry. “(Dukes) is hard to stop when you’re fresh, let alone late in the game when you’re tired like that,” Trinity-Byrnes coach Jared Amell said. “We played them as hard we could, better than anyone else this season. They just wore us down.”
First Baptist will jump leagues again next season, rising to the SCISA AAA ranks just five years removed from its eight-man days. Dukes will be back, as will Brown and a slew of starters. So how do the Hurricanes plan to follow back-to-back state titles? “We got a good thing going,” Dukes said with a smile. “We’re going to enjoy this one then, I don’t know, might as well get another one.”