By Andrew Miller, November 19, 2016
Members of the First Baptist School Football Team celebrate their SCISA Class AA State Title Saturday at Charlie S. Johnson Stadium in Columbia. (Andrew Miller, staff)
COLUMBIA -- Two years ago, the First Baptist High School football team didn’t win a single game.
On Saturday afternoon, the Hurricanes raised a state championship trophy on the field at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. It was the culmination of a rebuilding project that head coach Johnny Waters put into place for the Hurricanes when he took the job three years ago.
Sophomore Michel Dukes rushed for 136 yards and scored two touchdowns and quarterback Cameron Berl threw for another 166 yards and two more scores to lead the Hurricanes past Robert E. Lee, 28-21, to capture the SCISA Class AA state title Saturday afternoon.
First Baptist (10-2) lost all 10 games during Waters' first season as head coach and won just four games a season ago. But even back then, Waters could see the program making progress.
“They’ve never won at First Baptist and look at these kids and these fans,” Waters said. “I’m so happy for the players, the fans and everyone that has supported us over the last three years. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to be a part of this win. They went through a lot of 0-10 seasons and those kids worked their behinds off to be where they are today.”
Dukes, who led the Lowcountry in rushing this season with more than 2,100 yards and 36 touchdowns, remembers when the Hurricanes were a laughing stock of high school football around the Lowcountry.
Now, they are champions.
"My eighth grade year we didn’t win a game and the other teams would laugh at us on the field,” Dukes said. “This makes everything we did over the last two years worth it. All the work we put it, raising that trophy, makes it worth it.”
The Hurricanes didn’t make it easy on themselves, falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter. But the Hurricanes didn’t panic. They’d fallen behind by a similar score a week ago in the semifinals against Trinity Byrnes. First Baptist rallied to beat Trinity Byrnes, 55-35, to get to Saturday’s title match-up against the Cavaliers.
"People talk about us being a spread offense and we are, but we run the ball,” Waters said. “We’re going to wear teams down with the way we run the football. When we tied the game going into halftime we knew we had it. We knew we were going to win.” Trailing by two touchdowns, the Hurricanes marched 66 yards in six plays as Dukes scored from two yards out with 6:56 to play before halftime. The TD was set up by a 35-yard pass from Berl to wide receiver Ahamd Green.
The Hurricanes tied the game on their next possession. Green returned a punt 54 yards to the Cavaliers 10-yard line. Four plays later Berl found Callum Scott on the left side of the end zone for a 9-yard TD. Dukes gave the Hurricanes their first lead when he burst over the right side and scored from 24 yards out with 5:14 left in the third quarter.
But the Cavaliers answered on the following possession as William Corbett caught a 18-yard TD pass from Bryce Barrett to tie the game at 21-21. First Baptist got the game-winner on Tylan Major’s 36-yard TD reception from Berl with 1:46 left in the third quarter. The Cavaliers were on the verge of tying the game again in the fourth quarter, but the Hurricanes defense stuffed Nick Stokes on a 4th-and-goal play at the First Baptist 1-yard line with 6:44 left in regulation.
"Just a great goal-line stand by our defense," Waters said. "Everyone wants to talk about our offense, but the defense has played well all season and made a couple of huge plays in the fourth quarter." From there Dukes and the Hurricanes ran out the clock.