First Baptist running back Michel Dukes paused for just a second, turned to look at the field one more time to take in the scene, then made his way to the Hurricanes' locker room.
It was the last time that Dukes, a senior, will ever play at the James Island field, and he left the nearly 2,000 fans with a night they won’t soon forget.
Dukes rushed for 335 yards and scored two touchdowns and threw another TD pass to lead First Baptist past Porter-Gaud, 28-13, in the SCISA Class AAA state semifinals before a standing-room-only crowd Friday night.
The Hurricanes (10-1) will take on Hammond School, a 49-12 winner over Cardinal Newman, in the SCISA Class AAA state finals next Saturday at Benedict College at 7:30 p.m. The Skyhawks are in the midst of a 24-game winning streak and have been to the state finals 12 times over the past 15 years.
The Hurricanes and Skyhawks met back in September on James Island with Hammond escaping with a 28-21 victory.
“This game meant a lot to me,” said Dukes, who has rushed for 1,963 yards and 29 TDs this season. “I’m a senior, this is my last game on this field playing in front of our fans, and I didn’t want them to go home disappointed. This school has meant a lot to me and playing with my brothers, getting back to the state finals, getting a W, I’m just so happy for them because I couldn’t have done it without them.”
The Hurricanes couldn’t have done it without Dukes, who has more than 1,000 rushing yards against the Cyclones during his career.
“Porter-Gaud is one of our rivals, and they were in our way to get to the state finals,” Dukes said. “The offensive line did a great job tonight. All the credit goes to them.”
The Cyclones all but shut down Dukes in the opening quarter, swarming around the talented running back and limiting him to just 27 yards on his first seven rushing attempts. The Cyclones' defense used run blitzes from their linebackers to clog the running lanes.
“We had to take some chances if we were going to try and slow Michel down,” said Porter-Gaud coach Rick Reetz. “It worked for us for a while, but at some point, you knew, Mikey was going to make a play.”
On the second play of the second quarter, Dukes burst through the right side of the Hurricanes line, sidestepped a Cyclones defender, and raced 73 yards for the first TD of the game.
“Give Porter-Gaud a lot of credit, they came out and did a good job of containing Michel early on,” said First Baptist coach Johnny Waters. "But you can only gamble so much before he's going to make a play."
Porter-Gaud quarterback Gunnar Nistad and wide receiver Andrew Thomas did all they could to keep the Cyclones in the game. Nistad finished off a long drive with a 1-yard sneak and Caleb Pierce scored on a 4-yard run to give the Cyclones a 13-12 lead at halftime. Thomas finished with 12 catches for 144 yards, while Nistad was 21 of 38 for 203 yards and two interceptions.
“They came in with a great game plan and really controlled the ball for most of the first half,” Waters said. “We came in at halftime and made a couple of adjustments.”
Mainly, the Hurricanes put the ball in the hands of Dukes, who carried it 16 times for 184 yards, including a 61-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that all but put the game away. Dukes also threw a 27-yard TD pass to Sincere Brown, the first passing TD of his career.
“We put in a couple of trick plays during the week,” Dukes said.
It’s the third straight state final appearance for the Hurricanes, who captured back-to-back SCISA Class AA titles in 2016 and 2017 before moving up to Class AAA this season.
Dukes rushed for 194 yards, scored three TDs and had two interceptions in the loss to Hammond earlier in the season.
“Hammond has a great ballclub, they are the gold standard in Class AAA,” Waters said. “We felt like we had an opportunity to beat them down here last time. We had five turnovers, but it was tied up 21-21 with six minutes to go and we throw a pick-six, and that was the difference in the game. We want another opportunity to play them, and we’re going to go up there and leave everything we have on the field.”