By Daniel O'Leary
For the Staten Island Hurricanes, playing in American Youth Football National Championship games — and winning them — is becoming a tradition.
This year, during the first week of December down in sunny Florida, was no different.
The Hurricanes Midget team, in their third year in a row in the National Championship, pulled out an exciting 32-24 overtime shootout victory over the Scottsdale Firebirds to win the title for the second time in three years.
Steven Brown scored what turned out to be the game-winning TD on the second play of their first possession, but things weren’t locked up just yet. The Firebirds ran the ball to the 1-yard line on their first play, but couldn’t punch it in past a powerful defense led by Kareem Thomas, Cameron Stapleton and Compton Richardson.
"I didn’t think they were going to score on us. We’re known for our defense," said Bali Johnson. "The team we played was well-coached and disciplined. It was a chess match."
Brandon Barnes was the quarterback of the winning Midget team that also beat the Forest Black Hawks and their vaunted wing T offense, 19-6.
The Pee Wee team, on which many of the players from last year’s championship team returned, beat the MLK Texans 24-6 and the Scottsdale Firebirds 19-6 to earn another berth in the title game behind Triston Silver, Dawon Rivis and Devin Mitchell. They, however, fell to the Parkside Warriors 30-12, finishing runner-up in the AYF.
The Hurricanes Cadets won one of three games, a 13-0 win over Oak Grove came in their second game with help from Chris Campbell, Kyshief Campbell, Mike Jones, Amad Anderson, Prince Elijah Degroat and Brandon Thornton. The Junior Pee Wee squad beat the Brooklyn Chiefs 33-7 but lost their two other contests.
"They are volunteer-run and parent-managed. This is a team of kids that perform, not just on the field, but in the schools and in their community. We want to develop well-rounded young people, the future leaders of our community and we wanted to make sure that every child had the chance to participate in the National Championships," said a statement released by Senator Diane J. Savino’s office, who helped organize the fund-raising to send the Hurricanes to the championship games.
"I want to congratulate the players, their families, and the coaches for their third National Title in four years. The Staten Island Hurricanes are an amazing organization.''
Also contributing to the Hurricanes trip were the Richmond County Savings Foundation, Staten Island Terminal, Atlantic Salt, Health Plus, Daniel Berman, Dock Builders Local, Assemblyman Matthew Titone, Downtown Business Council and Anthony Gaeta Democratic Club.
"We’re making it about more than the wins and losses," said Johnson. "We now have a study hall every Monday, where the kids can focus on academics. We gave out a study hall MVP this year too. We want to help prepare them for high school as well as high school football."
In 2010, Johnson and the rest of the Hurricanes expect more of the same success.
"We always tell them," said the coach. "Tradition never graduates."
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