Call it a meteorologist’s dream scenario or a budding rivalry on the football field. However one chooses to describe Friday night’s SCISA battle between the Porter-Gaud Cyclones and the First Baptist Hurricanes, you can bet it means a lot to both teams.
Porter-Gaud (4-1) has been the area’s top SCISA program in recent years, playing in the Class AAA state finals twice in the last six years while winning 51 games during that span under head coach Rick Reetz.
First Baptist (4-1), as head coach Johnny Waters says, wants to be where Porter-Gaud is as a program, and the Hurricanes are making their way quickly. They won the Class AA state championship last season and are the early favorites to repeat this fall.
The Cyclones won last year’s meeting, 41-20, but pulled away in a close game with a strong fourth quarter. Both head coaches expect this year’s game to come down to the wire. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Porter-Gaud.
“I definitely expect it to be a close, competitive game,” Reetz said. “They’re a good football team and we feel like we have a good team. It’s a good little rivalry that’s building and it’s fun for our kids. Johnny and I are great friends so it’s fun to do battle with him. He’s really putting together a good program over there.”
Added Water: “We hope to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Porter-Gaud is solid in every phase of the game. Rick has a really strong program right now and he does a great job. We talk every week, sometimes more than once a week. We don’t talk much during this week though. Regardless of the outcome, we will shake hands and move on. I think both programs respect each other a lot.”
First Baptist and Porter-Gaud compete in the same Class AAA conference in basketball and the hoops rivalry is farther along.
With the two teams playing in different classifications in football, the outcome of the game has no bearing on playoff berths or conference titles. The pressure to win comes only from each team not wanting to lose to a rival.
“We want to win the game and make a statement that we can be the best SCISA program in Charleston,” First Baptist running back Michel Dukes said. “We already beat Pinewood earlier this year and that was a first time for us. We respect Porter-Gaud but we definitely want to beat them this year.”
The teams are similar in a lot of ways. Both have offenses with the potential to score plenty of points and both have been solid on defense.
Dukes is the bell cow of the First Baptist offense. The 5-10, 190-pound junior already holds several Division I offers after leading the Lowcountry in rushing yards and touchdowns last season. Dukes has rushed for 810 yards on 61 carries with 11 touchdowns.
First Baptist, however, is balanced with junior quarterback Tremez Brown, a Fort Dorchester transfer, having passed for 1,097 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games. Receivers Tylan Major and Eddie Simmons each average better than 18 yards per reception.
Defensively, the Hurricanes have posted three consecutive shutouts against lesser competition. Linebackers Jackson Watson (51 tackles) and Timmy Campbell (49 tackles) lead the defensive charge. Watson, a junior, transferred from Porter-Gaud after his freshman year.
“I know a lot of the guys there and have some good friends playing there so that makes it fun for us,” Watson said. “But I want to win the game. It’s an important game for us.”
Porter-Gaud also has a balanced offensive attack but leans more to the passing game. Senior Andrew Thomas, a first-year starter at quarterback, has been very good early. Thomas has completed 60 percent of his pass attempts for more than 1,100 yards and has gained nearly 400 yards rushing.
Thomas also has a quality group of receivers, led by Charles Hartsock and Keesler Lawrence, who have combined for nearly 600 yards.
Linebackers Parks Cochrane and Graham Kaplan are the leaders defensively for the Cyclones. Cochrane is the among the state’s tackle leaders with 87 total tackles.
“It’s a great challenge for us defensively because they (First Baptist) are really balanced and Mikey Dukes is a great running back,” Cochrane said. “We know what we have to do. We have to tackle well and be aggressive. We have to take the game to them. Every player on this team is looking forward to the game.”