THEY WILL serve Mrs. Brown’s cookies with milk to the football team Monday at Batesburg-Leesville High in celebration of the Panthers’ Class 2A, Division II state championship.
“I’m looking forward to those cookies,” said Dontavious Morris, whose interception in the end zone on the game’s final play sealed Batesburg-Leesville’s 28-24 victory against Silver Bluff at Benedict College.
Mrs. Brown would be Mary Ames Brown. She has been baking chocolate chip cookies and serving milk to her husband Jerry’s winning teams for all 29 years he has been a head coach at Spring Valley, Berkeley and, now, Batesburg-Leesville.
With career win No. 254 on the books and roughly 200 treats per victory, that’s about 51,000 cookies that have rolled out of Mrs. Brown’s oven over the years. None will taste sweeter than those consumed on Monday.
“I’ve been coaching 29 years as a head coach, and this is the most improved team I’ve ever had,” Brown said. “That goes big. These kids played hard.”
Brown compared this state title to the one his Berkeley team captured in 1994, which was also his second season at that school. He also counts state championships under his guidance in 1988 at Spring Valley, and in 1996 and 2009 at Berkeley.
Brown has resuscitated three programs by garnering the seventh state title and the first since 2005 for football-crazed Batesburg-Leesville. The streets of that community must have been quiet Friday because it seemed as if all 5,400 residents were in the Johnson Stadium stands.
“The whole town actually got excited,” Brown said shortly before the championship trophy was presented to his team. “They act like they know me now.”
Brown was quick to point out that wins and championships are not about him and his coaching. They are about his players, who developed a flare for the dramatic in the final two rounds of the playoffs.
The Panthers rallied from 19 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat Chesnee 34-33 in the state semifinals. On Friday, they spotted Silver Bluff a 24-20 lead with 9:02 remaining in the game.
That’s when senior quarterback Jacquiel Chandler directed Batesburg-Leesville on a methodical 12-play, 63-yard drive that did not include a pass attempt. The drive featured a 14-yard run by Chandler and a key 18-yard sweep by Aquavian Tolen on a third-and-13.
Chandler’s 2-yard run capped the drive and Terrance Wilson’s run for the two-point conversion gave Batesburg-Leesville what proved to be a crucial four-point advantage.
Wilson, with 99 yards on 11 carries; Tolen, with 93 on two carries; and Rickie Smith, with 69 on 21 carries, spearheaded a Batesburg-Leesville ground game that managed 287 yards. The Panthers attempted three passes.
Then the Batesburg-Leesville defense secured the win. As Silver Bluff drove 52 yards in the final minutes, defensive back Ray Norris made a key tackle for a loss, lineman Xavier Small stopped Silver Bluff quarterback Jaylen Lawrence short of a first down on a scramble play, and Morris picked off the Lawrence’s pass in the end zone.
“I saw the ball coming to me the entire time,” Morris said. “When I saw him throw the ball, I just knew I had to make a play for my team. I just knew it.”
As Morris fell to the ground and the stadium clock hit all zeroes, he was mobbed in a dogpile by his teammates. Batesburg-Leesville students and fans stormed the field and joined in the celebration.
After accepting handshakes and hugs from family and friends outside the stadium gates, the team boarded a bus and headed to nearby C.A. Johnson High to shower and change into street clothes.
That is where Brown addressed the team.
“I don’t want this to be the main thing you do in your life,” Brown said he told the state champs. “I want you to make something of your life. I don’t want this to be the highlight and climax and go downhill from here. If you can do this, you can do anything if you just keep applying the same work habits, same discipline and making the same choices.”
With that, the Panthers were off to Golden Corral for a celebratory meal with the knowledge that Mrs. Brown’s oven was already heating up.
“Cookies on Monday,” quarterback Chandler said. “That’s what we like, cookies on Monday.”