JAY – For the only game of the season that didn’t count for the Baker Gators, all the K-12 school’s teams played their kickoff classic like everything was on the line.


Everything was on the line for the team, because they were playing for one of their own: assistant coach Chip Weems.

The offensive line coach wasn’t able to attend the kickoff classic due to health concerns and his players decided to dedicate their efforts to him.

Baker offensive lineman Dalton Richards recalled his time with Weems, “We’ve made a lot of memories with him; we’ve been with him for a long time and he’s been with us.”

Baker Gators had the hashtag “#W4W” written on their wristbands which stood for “Win for Weems,” and win they did; from the middle school level to the varsity elite.

Between the middle school, junior varsity and varsity Gator squads, the total score was 56-7, with the JV and varsity each scoring 21 points in a single quarter of play.

The only points the Baker teams allowed the Jay Royals to score was a single touchdown; and that was only due to coach Matt Brunson letting his second string defense start their half of the kickoff classic.

While sitting out until the fourth quarter didn’t sit well with an eager Zach Brown — now a senior linebacker — he got his chance to shine with what WWE announcer Jim Ross would call a “slobber knocker” of a hit on defense, putting an exclamation point on yet another dominant Baker performance.

In addition to what could be described as a small schools football clinic to kick off the season, Brunson brought out a new weapon in an already versatile offensive arsenal — the arm of running back Junior McLaughlin.

“He was working on his passing [Friday] so that was exciting to watch,” said Brunson, who had hinted in the offseason he would be utilizing his junior running back while allowing quarterback Kalee Ciurleo to play as a wideout. 

The Ciurleo twins performed extraordinarily to start off their senior season, with Jalen scoring two touchdown receptions — one from his brother Kalee and the other from McLaughlin who rushed for a touchdown of his own. Junior running back Jayson Moore scored the other touchdown for the varsity.

As for the middle school and JV teams, their shutout of the Jay Royals in the first half gave the Baker faithful more to look forward to in the coming years.

The Baker Gators’ middle school team plays Lewis in Niceville while the JV plays Northview at home on Aug. 24.

The Baker Varsity opens their season in Bonifay against Holmes County on Aug. 25.