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Tornadoes to take on Rams, past

The Clearwater High Tornadoes are a good football team, some say the best at the school in years. And the thing to do on campus is go gaga over the crimson and gray. But didn't your mother warn you?

These tempting Tornadoes are a dangerous date. They romance you, entertain you, even tease you ... but when your hopes get high, when you look for something substantial in the relationship, it's over and you're left with used-to-be's and might-have-beens.

The past is a path of broken dreams, but the Tornadoes again are tantalizing with an undefeated record and a chance to win a district championship. Clearwater plays at Sarasota Riverview High on Saturday morning for the district lead.

The team bus leaves early Saturday. Their fans will follow. History says they could be headed for another Heartbreak Hotel.

"They don't have a good track record of winning the district," said lawyer Tim Peters, a 1964 Clearwater grad who played for the Tornadoes. "There always is one opponent they can't seem to beat."

This year's players are well aware of the recent past.

"We have a history of losing the big game," said tackle Greg Frey. "There has always been talent at Clearwater. I don't know what it is. I know that everyone gets psyched up to play against Clearwater ... Probably the only team that doesn't get psyched up is Riverview."

Peters and other longtime supporters have watched successful teams recently, but not champions. Clearwater has not won a district title since 1978, but has come close eight times. A loss in a big game always sank the Tornadoes, and their followers' hopes.

Clearwater is 6-0, and 3-0 in district play. Still, the Tornadoes are underdogs to Riverview (4-2, 3-0 in the district) in their 10:30 a.m. game. No Pinellas team has beaten Riverview in regulation play since the Rams joined the Pinellas district in 1987. Dunedin beat Riverview in double overtime in 1987 to win the district.

Last week, Riverview beat another previously unbeaten Pinellas team, Largo, 20-0.

Riverview plays in a district with Pinellas teams because the Rams' previous district featured two other powers, Sarasota and Manatee. The three schools had trouble making a schedule because few other teams would play them. So Riverview joined what is called Class 5A, District 9, giving Clearwater one more obstacle.

"There has always been that one team that has kept us from going," said ex-Clearwater coach John Nicely, now a Dunedin High administrator. "For four years (1979-82), we were 9-2 or 10-1, but it was Dunedin that always beat us."

And if it wasn't Dunedin, then it was Pinellas Park or Largo or Riverview. In 1977, Clearwater raced to a 9-0 start, but lost to Largo for the district title.

When Riverview and Clearwater met last year, both were undefeated in district play, and the Rams won 35-0. Two years ago, Clearwater finished 10-1, its lone loss a 7-0 decision to Riverview.

"This team is like the one two years ago," said Tornadoes Booster Club president Bob Frey, Greg's father. "They have heart. Last year, we saw the Rams coming and thought we were supposed to lose, and we lost.

"This team is not like that ... we feel we have got a legitimate shot."

When Clearwater coach Tom Bostic gathers his players Saturday morning, his pep talk won't dwell on the big games that have slipped away. "History won't have too much to do with Saturday," he said. "The only history is the preparation the week before.

"In past years, Pinellas County teams have given up points just crossing the Skyway bridge, because of their reputation ... There is a whole lot different attitude this year. This team does not give up. Our kids have talked about Riverview since the start of the season. I really think they're looking forward to it."