Last year was Pat McCoy's first as head coach of the Springstead High football team, and what a start _ the Eagles opened up 7-0, tucked away a district championship, and looked forward to a conference title and undefeated regular season.
Pasco High ended those hopes by dropping Springstead 39-29 and stealing the Sunshine Athletic Conference title. It was the Eagles' only regular-season loss.
Yet that was not the game McCoy recalls as his most disappointing regular-season loss as a coach. Heck, that wasn't even his most disappointing loss against Pasco.
He reserves that distinction for the 1991 district title showdown between Pasco and Hernando, one of the most memorable and best-attended high school football games ever in the area.
McCoy was the assistant head coach for Hernando, which came in ranked No. 7 in the Class 3A state poll. Though Pasco was ranked No. 1 in the state, Hernando featured Dwayne Mobley, the state's top scorer and second-leading rusher.
Never mind the heated rivalry these teams had shared for decades, which resumes after a two-year layoff at 7:30 tonight at Pasco. Much more was on the line. Both teams came in undefeated, but more important, both were in Class 3A, District 7.
Unlike now, in 1991 only one team from each district advanced to the playoffs. A team could go 9-1 and still stay home.
That is exactly what happened to Hernando, which opened up a 21-0 lead at home and watched it slip away.
"The hype was so incredible, and it's so rare for a game to live up to that," recalled Brent Gaustad, defensive coordinator of the 1991 Hernando squad.
The apparent Hernando rout backfired as Pasco came back to tie the game at 21 with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and win 28-21 under a tiebreaker format in front of more than 8,000 spectators.
Gaustad spoke on behalf of Mike Imhoff, the Leopards' head coach in that contest. Imhoff and another Hernando teacher, Mike Bristol, were shot to death in January 1996. Jimmy Dale Smith, who has been charged with the killings, is awaiting trial.
"Mike was in disbelief we actually lost that game," Gaustad recalled. "We thought we were the stronger team."
Hernando certainly was in the first half. While Pasco focused on bottling up Mobley, Jermaine Green ran free. Mobley's 1-yard touchdown run opened the scoring, while Green added touchdown bursts of 15 and 81 yards as Hernando went up 21-0 with just 2:08 left in the half.
More than enough time for Pasco.
On the last play from scrimmage before halftime, Pirates quarterback Dee Reed hit Chris Jones with a 65-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 21-7 and deflate Hernando.
"Mike always commented about how when we went in at halftime, he expected the kids to be excited, fired up about leading 21-7," Gaustad recalled. "But the kids were very subdued, very quiet."
"After (Pasco) scored the touchdown, that gave them the edge," Mobley recalled.
In the Pirates' locker room, they were fed off the sudden score.
"We got pumped up," said Perry Brown, then Pasco's head coach. "That (touchdown) helped us a bunch going in. I told them now we have (the Leopards) where we want them."
Brown, who led Pasco to a state title in 1992 and now is head coach at Dunnellon, was correct. But his team didn't have to worry much about the run, either.
A Mobley fumble ended Hernando's first drive after the break, and quarterback Chad Moore fumbled to end the next _ a critical mistake, McCoy said.
"We started a long drive and got well down into (Pasco territory), and I really believed that with one more score, we win," he said. "There was something about that fumble that just got me concerned."
When Hernando's next possession failed, Mobley misunderstood a signal from the sideline and tried to run a fake punt _ a bad move on fourth-and-26.
"It wasn't Dwayne's fault; the signals were too similar," Gaustad said.
Mobley was stopped for a 1-yard gain, and Pasco took over at the Leopards' 27. On the next play, Chris Jones hit Taras Ross for a touchdown on a halfback pass. Travis Loyed's point-after made it 21-14.
Pasco followed with the dramatic tying score: Facing fourth-and-7 from the Leopards' 10 with 40 seconds left, Reed rolled left and found Mike Penix open for the touchdown.
Loyed's kick was true, and the game went to a Kansas tiebreaker, which allows each team an equal number of chances to score from the 10-yard line. Pasco went first. Penix slid through on first down for the 10-yard score.
Next was Hernando, and Mobley churned out 4 yards on first down and 5 on second. With Hernando at the 1, Brown expected atouchdown.
"I started thinking, well, is Mike going to go for two or not?" Brown said.
It wouldn't be an issue. Pasco's defense stopped Mobley on both tries, though some Hernando faithful dispute that to this day.
"I thought I got into the end zone, but the referee said I didn't," said Mobley, who went on to earn a national championship ring at the University of Florida. He is a substitute teacher at Parrott Middle School in Brooksville.
Brown's final recollection was of looking up at the Hernando stands.
"It seemed like a painting," he said. "Everything was just quiet, motionless, like they couldn't believe we'd come back and won it. It was a great football game."
After a two-year layoff, Hernando and Pasco will resume their high school football series:
WHERE: W.F. Edwards Stadium, 1204 State Road 52, Dade City.
WHEN: 7:30 tonight.
AT STAKE: A Hernando victory clinches the Class 4A, District 8 title. A Pasco victory coupled with a Zephyrhills victory over Central forces a three-way tiebreaker for the district's two state playoff spots.
TICKETS: $4. Officials expect tickets to be available, although they might be for standing room only.