Matt Holliday still remembers the last football game he ever played.
Now a baseball star with the St. Louis Cardinals, Holliday just prefers to think more about his next-to-last game as Stillwater High's quarterback. In that first-round playoff game, he brought the Pioneers back from a 42-21 deficit to defeat Tulsa Union 43-42 with three touchdowns in the final six minutes.
A week later, the Pioneers were pounded 63-0 in the state semifinals by the eventual champions, a Jenks team with four All-Staters, Rocky Calmus, Jason Lohr, Shawn Mahan and Brad Hawkins.
In observance of the 100th edition of The Oklahoman's All-State football team, to be announced in late December, the newspaper will recognize players from the previous 99 teams, and the 1997 Jenks squad was loaded with talent — a fact Holliday learned up close.
“That Jenks team was probably the best high school football team, especially on defense, that I've ever seen,” said Holliday, who was The Oklahoman's All-State Offensive Player of the Year after the 1997 season. “It's not like it's still a heartbreaking loss, but when I think back about it, I like to remember the Union game the week before that.”
Against Union, Holliday finished with 375 passing yards and four touchdowns — numbers that might not sound gaudy today, but 1997 was a different world of offensive football. And it was his third late-season comeback of the year, something he made common at Stillwater.
“You have to stay to the end of the game to see what's going to happen when the Pioneers play,” coach Bill Defee said after the Union win.
Stillwater back then was actually ahead of its time in some respects, as Defee molded his offense to fit his players, primarily at quarterback, and let Holliday toss the ball all over the yard.
“At the time, we were one of the smallest 6A schools, and we didn't have the amount of players to choose from that a lot of other schools did,” the 32-year-old Holliday said. “I think he adapted to his talent really well. We threw the ball a lot — more and more as he built trust in me from my sophomore year to my senior year.”
Holliday finished his high school career with 6,211 passing yards and 68 touchdowns. His 35 TD passes as a junior were an 11-man state record at the time.
He thoroughly enjoyed his career as a high school quarterback — though he wouldn't mind changing one small detail.
“We were pre-shotgun,” he said. “I was under center all the time, so I wish we would've had shotgun back in the day.”