DADE CITY — Joshua Johnson leaped for the interception and held on tightly with both hands. Before he could land, Gulf's 6-foot-5, 295-pound Leon Orr was charging at Pasco's 6-foot, 180-pound sensation.
The hit sent Johnson into a 360-degree spin as he rolled off Orr — a hit that would have sent most high school kids to the ground. Johnson landed on his feet and ran up field before he was finally stopped.
On the sideline Pasco offensive coordinator Brad Starling simply said, "Wow."
"I haven't said, 'Wow,' like that in a long time," Starling said. "That reminded me of the type of athletes we had and the plays we made. … That reminded me of the mystique and the way games were played in the glory days. Hopefully, that's where we're heading again."
The play summed up Friday's 50-0 win against Gulf in a Class 3A region semifinal: Pasco seemed unstoppable. The 2008 Pirates are the school' first region finalists since Pasco won the 1992 state title. This Pasco team needs three more wins to legitimately put itself on par with those legendary Pirates.
Starling was a first-year assistant coaching quarterbacks on the '92 team that finished 14-0 with a 28-16 win against Jesuit in the title game.
Heading into the Pirates' Class 3A region final against North Marion on Friday at W.F. Edwards Stadium, some fans are likely to begin comparing 1992 with 2008.
Starling recalled the '92 locker room and the aura of confidence going into each game.
"It seemed like we never got cocky and, I hate to say, never worried about losing a game," Starling said. "We just went out and did what we did. The kids played with confidence."
The '92 Pirates were anchored by a talented offensive line with Kaivon Madani, Chuck Langlinais, Nelson Neal and Aaron Craig. There was the talented sibling duo of Troy and Darren Hambrick, Jamie Byrd and, of course, quarterback Issac Johnson, father of Joshua Johnson.
"The offensive line was the backbone and the leaders," Starling said. "They kept everything together. We had the talented players … six or seven running backs that could go in there and do the job. I don't think you'll have that many dedicated offensive linemen that will work that hard. That's really what made it all go."
Starling says the success of these Pirates is predicated on defense.
Friday, the Pirates held Gulf running back Adrian "Bubba" Golden to 54 yards rushing and sacked quarterback Jacob Johnson four times while posting the Pirates' third shutout this season. Pasco has not allowed more than 20 points in a game.
The '08 Pirates are capable of scoring a ton of points. Five players scored touchdowns Friday, and three quarterbacks threw touchdowns.
"When we play the way we're capable of playing, we're pretty lethal," Starling said. "… It's taken us a little while. … We've gotten to the point now to know what works for us. You're beginning to see us execute the way we felt like we're capable of doing."
The one blemish was an 18-17 loss to Nature Coast at home, so even if these Pirates are able to win a state title, the naysayers — likely the '92 players — would never let that go. But even Starling looks at that loss as a necessary evil to get to this point.
"You hate to say it was a good thing to have a loss, but it might have helped us," Starling said. "It refocused us to get us on track."