Even five and a half years later, Rick Swain is still trying to forget Halloween night in 2014.
Swain, then the head coach of Boynton Beach High School in South Florida, took his 9-0 Tigers about 40 miles south to Hallandale High School to face the unbeaten Chargers. The game was for the District 15-6A title.
“I remember the 2013 game much better — because we won,” Swain said with a laugh. “I’ve been trying to forget the 2014 game for a long time. We were 9-0, they were 9-0, and we played on a really sloppy field and we had a bunch of bad things happen.”
That night, a wet night in South Florida, two unheralded and underappreciated quarterbacks took center stage and tried to will their teams to a district title and an unbeaten regular season. Their names were Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley.
Jackson, a senior, had committed to Louisville early in his senior season. Huntley, a junior, was less than a year away from committing to Utah.
Both were three-star recruits, according to 247sports, but both endured questions about their futures long before and after their matchup in 2014.
That game ended as Huntley led his team down the field for a 31-yard game-winning field goal. Hallandale, and Huntley, won 38-36.
The night was unforgettable, and it still sticks in the minds of both quarterbacks and, obviously, anyone who was fortunate enough to watch the shootout in person. Huntley, who signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Ravens, was welcomed to Baltimore by the league’s reigning MVP with a friendly reminder of who still has bragging rights.
“Welcome fam,” Jackson tweeted. “You owe me from that game I didn’t forget.”
Welcome fam💜 you owe me from that game I didn’t forget😡😡🤣🤣 https://t.co/S9WpN6zwId— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) April 26, 2020
What everyone wants to convey about South Florida high school football is how much Friday nights mean in the fall. The importance hasn’t changed today.
“The players remember,” said Steven Gorten, who covered the game for the South Florida Sun Sentinel that night. “The one thing that’s huge in South Florida, and I don’t know about other areas, is bragging rights. These games are talked about by people in their communities long after they leave.”
South Florida has taken over the football world in the last few decades, and with respect to California, Texas, Ohio and Georgia, the numbers just don’t stack up for other areas of the country.
“Tommy Tuberville said it the best when he was a GA back in the day at Miami,” Blustein said. “He said, ‘You can win a national title every year with the athletes that are within a 100-mile radius of the University of Miami’s campus.’ And he’s right. That 100 miles would include Palm Beach, where all these studs have come throughout the years.”
But Jackson, from Pompano Beach, Florida, in the heartland of the country’s best high school football, endured questions about his viability at the quarterback position long before he played in Louisville or Baltimore. And it wasn’t necessarily Jackson’s talent that had scouts questioning his ability to play quarterback.
In the past, South Florida had produced remarkable NFL talents at nearly every position on the field. That didn’t include the quarterback position.
“It’s really the thing (Jackson) has been unfairly looked at as his passing ability not being strong enough,” Gorten said. “Quarterbacks that can scramble are automatically thought of as run guys who can’t necessarily pass well. I know that’s something that some colleges were concerned about with him. There’s been a lot of quarterbacks that have been good down here that haven’t been able to make it to the next level as a passer because you need to be able to do both.”
Jackson, who played at Boynton for two seasons, immediately transformed the team’s offense when he arrived midway through his sophomore year. Before Jackson took an in-game snap Swain had players routinely tell him they had a phenom on his hands. That’s how they remembered Jackson from little league.
While the kids remembered Jackson from youth football, a trend throughout South Florida, Swain still needed to be convinced. It didn’t take very long.
“When Lamar came in, that first time he stuck his foot in the ground and went about 60 yards the first day of practice, I turned to my offensive coordinator and said, ‘Look, dude. We’ve got to change what we’re doing here,’” Swain recalled.
The team revamped its offense and went 18-4, playoffs included, in Jackson’s two seasons as a quarterback.
“I got a gift from the football gods when he came in,” Swain said.
That led Jackson, one of the state’s top players, into a showdown with unbeaten Hallandale, which was a bit of a surprise team that year.
Huntley, the Chargers’ quarterback, wasn’t as highly praised as Jackson and received 14 scholarship offers — including one from Louisville. But he’d soon prove his worth.
“Tyler was one of those guys where everybody always put down because he was really a thin guy, people didn’t think he had the arm strength and he didn’t look the part,” Blustein said. “But by the time they ended the game, they kind of understood.”
The biggest thing Blustein remembers about the game between Hallandale and Boynton Beach was how it was almost a blowout.
Hallandale led 21-7 at halftime and had the chance to put Boynton down for good to win the district title. Not only was the district title at stake, but a loss would almost certainly also spell near-certain elimination in the first round of the playoffs.
Miami Central, the eventual state champions which was led by Dalvin Cook, ran roughshod over the state and was set to face the loser of Hallandale against Boynton Beach. And for a while, it looked like that team would be Boynton.
The Chargers were a strong defensive team, and the Tigers, which had won 63-58 the previous week, couldn’t find the same offensive magic. Now, they were on the brink of losing control.
That’s when the Tigers took off.
Jackson rallied the Tigers to take a 22-21 lead early in the fourth quarter with two quick scores, but Huntley and the Chargers pulled it together to take a 13-point lead with just under four minutes to play.
Huntley, according to Gorten’s game story that night, finished 16-of-26 passing for 304 yards with three touchdowns. It looked as if the Tigers were finished. But Jackson, who ended the game with five touchdowns, wasn’t.
The Tigers scored quickly to cut the lead to six, then recovered an onside kick and scored two touchdowns in just over two minutes to take a 36-35 lead with 37 seconds to play. Jackson’s throw to star wideout Donte Sylencieux in the right corner of the end zone seemed to be the jaw-dropping play to end an instant classic.
It wasn’t. Boynton Beach had more trouble ahead.
Swain said a language barrier between him and the Tigers’ kicker created confusion about what kickoff he wanted. Instead of a squib kick down the field, he got another onside kick.
“So it didn’t go but about 15 yards, and they recovered it,” Swain said. “Set them in fairly good field position and, give them credit, they came right back and shredded us for about 40 yards. It was just pretty depressing.”
Despite a controversial near interception, Huntley drove his team to the 14-yard line where Celso Lopez, a 5-foot-9, 130-pound kicker, took center stage.
As Lopez — who, by his own admission, had been a kicker for just a month-and-a half — lined up the kick with nine seconds to play, Swain felt confident Boynton Beach was seconds away from a district title.
“I thought to myself, ‘He ain’t gonna make this. He can barely make the extra points,’” Swain recalled. “Then that guy got up there and stroked it. Nobody thought he would make it.”
The kick barely cleared the crossbar as Hallandale beat Boynton Beach 38-36. Huntley was a district champion.
“It’s one of those typical high school stories,” Gorten said. “The stars battle it out, they all look good, then it comes down to a 5-foot-9, 130-pound kicker. Everything comes down to him, the whole season. People come to see the stars, the stars showed up, but ultimately it came down to the non-descript kicker.”
In retrospect, the game wasn’t immediately lauded as the best anyone had ever been a part of. But as the years have gone by, it’s slowly mattered more to those who were there, simply because of what the players from that game became.
“It’s one of those games where even if you’re not a Hallandale or Boynton fan, you might come out to watch just to see those guys because you knew they were going to be big-time players in college,” Gorten said.
Jackson’s Tigers lost to Miami Central the following week 49-6 in the first round of the Florida state playoffs. Hallandale also lost to Miami Central 35-19 the week after.
The legacy of the two quarterbacks has only grown since that game, as Jackson won NFL MVP in 2019 and Huntley and two of his high school teammates, including Zack Moss, helped turn Utah into a national title contender.
To everyone that watched Hallandale and Boynton Beach in 2014, though, Jackson has done exactly what he did in high school in his two years as an NFL player.
“What the real remarkable part was the fact that he was able to make average football players great football players around him,” Swain said. “I think that’s the biggest takeaway.”
Now teammates, Jackson and Huntley still haven’t forgotten that night in South Florida in 2014. Nor will anyone who saw the game in person.
“Regardless of how many of these types matchups you have with stars, this was a special game because it’s one that people will talk about even now,” Gorten said. “‘Hey, I remember when Tyler Huntley went up against Lamar in high school.’”
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