“Give me the ball, Coach. I’ll put it in. Trust me.” - Davian Brown, First Baptist eighth-grader.
First Baptist was seven hours from home. The clamor of the opposing crowd made it feel even further.
The Hurricanes stood 2 yards from the end zone, just 2 yards from an opportunity to earn maybe the biggest regular-season win in program history.
The clock withered below the final 40 seconds. First Baptist didn’t have a timeout. Two yards never felt so far away.
Johnny Waters' palms were sweating. Maybe it was the Florida heat. Maybe it was nerves. His initial instinct was to throw the ball. If the pass fails, the Hurricanes head coach reasoned, the clock would stop and First Baptist could comfortably move to the next play. A failed run, though, might sends things into a frenzy as they tried to reset with the final seconds melting in a one-score ball game. Yes, throwing the ball made the most sense, he assured himself.
Then Davian Brown spoke up. One of the youngest players on the roster, one of the smallest too, Brown pleaded for the ball in a way that made Waters reconsider. Imagine, a 5-foot-5 eighth-grader embracing such a decisive moment in a game as important as any the Hurricanes had played. A veteran offensive line of upperclassmen towered behind him, nodding in approval of their teammate’s audacity.
“So I trusted him,” Waters said. “It was the look he had in his eyes, the way he said it. You could feel it. It made you believe him. So I trusted an eighth-grader.”
Brown delivered with a 2-yard plow into the end zone. One cut and a crash through a defender lifted First Baptist past North Florida Christian, 21-20, Friday in Tallahassee.
The SCISA AAA No. 2 Hurricanes improve to 2-0, now with a season-opening win over AA No. 2 Trinity-Byrnes and a road win against a defending Florida state champion that finished last season ranked as the fifth-best AAAA private school in the nation.
“It’s a signature win for our program,” Waters said. “We’ve had some big wins the past couple of years but this one is up there with any of them.”
Brown saw just six carries, finishing with 19 yards and a touchdown playing both ways in First Baptist’s season opener last week. He received 13 touches on Friday, rushing for a team-best 79 yards and the deciding score.
Brown has dominated the middle school all-star level the past couple of years. He enrolled at First Baptist this season because he believed in Waters and the Hurricanes program. Friday, he asked his coach to return the faith.
“It feels awesome,” Brown said when asked of the trust Waters has shown in him at such a young age.
“And I have my brothers to help and guide me,” he added. “It feels real good. I like it.”
North Florida moved ahead early as quarterback Drew Faurot ran in a 31-yard score on the Eagles’ opening possession.
First Baptist quarterback Will Daniel answered with a 9-yard rushing touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter. Daniel then connected with McKay Wilson on a 38-yard score seven minutes into the second quarter to push First Baptist ahead 14-7 by halftime.
Daniel finished with a career-high 292 yards through the air and 22 on the ground. Wilson turned in his best game too with six catches for 125 yards and the score — a performance Waters said the Hurricanes wouldn’t have won the game without. App State commit Sincere Brown faced a high-low double team most of the night, but still finished with 76 yards on two catches. First Baptist has thrown for 573 yards through its first two games of the season. The Hurricanes had passed for 245 at the same point last year.
“Will was on,” Waters said. “I’ve had quarterbacks have better games stat-wise. But that was probably the best quarterback performance I’ve had here at First Baptist.”
North Florida evened the game with 7-yard touchdown run from Jonathan Lucas three minutes into the third quarter. Dendrae McCray pushed the Eagles ahead, taking a jet sweep 10 yards into the end zone four minutes into the fourth quarter. First Baptist blocked the extra-point attempt, though, opening the opportunity for the late game-winning drive that began on the Hurricanes’ 10-yard line with 2:07 to play, no timeouts left, and ended with Brown in the end zone.
This year's First Baptist team entered the season eager to prove itself. Trite preseason narratives focused on the graduation of Michel Dukes. Headlines asked if the Hurricanes could still win without their all-time leading rusher. The current players took exception to that. They're sick of hearing it. First Baptist's first two wins this season are stronger than any start the program has ever had. It's a different team, for sure, but one that should be respected all the same.
The Hurricanes will travel to Burke next week, a AA S.C. High School League team they'll be heavily favored against. They'll likely be favored the next four games leading to a rematch with defending state champion Hammond on Sept. 27.
"We couldn't have started out with two better teams," Waters said. "We're off to a good start. You can feel it. But we can still get better, much better. We want to become a great team. And we'll have to become a great team to play with Hammond. These guys believe they can. And that's exciting."
Faith in themselves seems to be a strength of these Hurricanes.