It was too hot to stand still, so Johnny Waters milled about the field during pregame. Some of it may have been nerves.
So much inside Bishop England’s Jack Cantey Stadium was familiar to him — the gold dome atop the field house, the Kelly green scoreboards.
Still, much had changed. He’d never seen the field from this perspective, the visitors’ sideline, in his seven years as an assistant with the Bishops. Now the head coach of two-time SCISA defending state champion First Baptist, Waters was returning as the opposition to a stadium where he began his career.
“It was a strange feeling, being back here. Different to say the least,” Waters said. “But once the game gets rolling, that all goes away. It’s still football and you’re trying to win the game.”
Waters' First Baptist team ran away with a 35-7 season-opening win over Bishop England Friday on Daniel Island as standout running back Michel Dukes ran for 170 yards and three touchdowns.
It’s the sixth win for the SCISA Hurricanes over a S.C. High School League team in the past three years. First Baptist has outscored it opposition 277-44 over those six games.
“I know what the score says but we really didn’t play a great ball game,” Waters said. “First game of the season, we’re over here at Bishop England. I’m not sure what it was, but it wasn’t the level we want to be.”
Waters and Bishops offensive coordinator Jim Daniel are best friends. They spent 15 years coaching together, seven when Daniel was head coach at Bishop England and current Bishops head coach John Cantey was the defensive coordinator.
Waters and Daniel together constructed a unique version of the veer offense. Hardly anyone else was operating it out of the shotgun the same way at the time. They moved to Palmetto Christian together in 2007 and reached the state championship game a year later. They moved to First Baptist together in 2014 and won a state championship two years later. Daniel returned to Bishop England last season.
“A lot of history,” Waters said.
Waters and Daniel both still run updated versions of the offense they built together. Waters’ version, armed with deeper talent and more experience, won Friday’s chess match between the two play-callers. First Baptist rang up 438 yards offense to the Bishops’ 199, despite holding possession only half as long.
Bishop England lost starting quarterback Will Daniel to an apparent shoulder injury on its fourth offensive series. Bishops leading receiver Chris Dengler went down soon after. Backup quarterback Cam Costa operated the Bishops offense admirably the rest of the night, passing for 138 yards and a touchdown.
The Bishops drove down to the Hurricanes’ 11-yard line in the final minutes of the second quarter before surrendering three straight sacks to finish the half scoreless, trailing 14-0.
“We were driving the ball pretty decently but then would just lose momentum,” Cantey said. “Putting the ball in the end zone on a couple of those opportunities down there would have helped us out a lot.”
Costa connected with Liam Breau for a 5-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit in half, 14-7, with nearly six minutes left in the third quarter.
First Baptist all-state running back Michel Dukes answered on the first play of the ensuing possession, breaking loose 82 yards to the end zone. Dukes followed it up with a 74-yard sprint down to the Bishops’ 1-yard line on the Hurricanes’ next possession before finishing the drive a play later to open a 28-7 advantage.
He tacked on one more score in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter with a 5-yard plunge through contact. Dukes finished with 170 yards in all, stacking 156 after halftime.
“I think Mikey ran the ball as hard as I’ve seen in the second half,” Waters said. “Their defense was really crashing inside so we started to pop outside a little bit and Mikey kind of gave us that spark.”
There was little celebration after. Waters sought out Daniel immediately following the final whistle to check on his son Will’s status. The two shared a quick embrace before parting ways.
“It was different coming over here tonight,” Waters explained. “But these are still my guys over here.”
First Baptist (1-0) hosts Burke next week, while Bishop England (0-1) has an off week before traveling to James Island Aug. 31.