By Larry Blustein
It is getting to be redundant for Hallandale High’s football team. But as the Chargers head into Friday night’s Regional State Quarterfinal game at home against two-time defending 6A state champion Miami Central, it is once again the biggest football event in school history.
For a school that has enjoyed much of its success on the basketball court through the years, the unbeaten (10-0) Chargers will not be intimidated when the Rockets (10-1) come to Hallandale Beach for the first time ever in any sport for a 7:30 kickoff.
Hallandale has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
“We have learned that the only way to accomplish what we have so far this year is to take each game one at a time,” said head coach Dameon Jones. “We felt that way when Miami Northwestern came here last week, and we will have to do it against one of the nation’s elite teams.”
Hallandale rolled all over the once powerful Northwestern Bulls, 47-20, and while the respect for Central is without saying, this is a football program that has come too far and climbed too many obstacles to let their collective guard down against this nationally rated program that is bidding for an amazing fifth straight trip to Orlando and the state championship.
While the Chargers are a young football team – with record-setting junior quarterback Tyler Huntley – leading the way once again this year – this program is not short on talent, and a win against the Rockets – while it would be amazing and something that would truly change the perception of this program – it would not be a total shock. Not to the players and coaches who have been around this building process for three years.
“I understand that we are not considered as one of the powers in the state – or even locally in the minds of some people,” said junior receiver Chris Cotto. “But this is a process that has played out since we arrived here. We felt all along that to change the perception of the school and the program – you have to win a big game, and they certainly do not get any bigger than this one.”
Cotto caught two early touchdown passes from Hallandale quarterback Tyler Huntley, who threw four for the game and finished with 188 yards passing.
Huntley also connected for touchdowns with Joshua Hammond and Neru Nshaka as Hallandale scored the game’s first 28 points.
Hallandale’s running game totaled 183 yards as well, as senior Taj McGowan led the way with 70 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve been going one game at a time and the game plan was to get out tonight and get a big lead,” Jones said. “We have to clean up the mistakes before next week and keep getting better.”
To beat Miami Central, Hallandale will need to have its best players step up. Senior prospects like receiver Richie Cooper, who took a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against Northwestern. They will also need defensive efforts by University of Georgia-bound linebacker Juwan Taylor, FSU commit Sh’mar Kilby-Lane, who recently was added to the Army All-American game roster, Syracuse bound defensive end Dana Levine and other top prospects.
The Chargers boast more Division 1 (FBS level) talent than this school has ever had before, and while beating the Rockets will take a huge effort, that’s what this football program has been building toward.
The winner of Friday night’s game will move on to the third round and square off against the winner of the Palm Bay Heritage (7-3) and Naples (10-1) game.