Dale Caparaso claims he does not care one whit about the rivalry. In fact, for the second year in a row, he asked what exactly all the commotion is about.
Easy for him to say. For one thing Caparaso, the Pasco coach, is in his second year on the job, having moved here from up north. He's not expected to know what a game with Hernando means to Pasco.
For another thing, Pasco has not lost the rivalry game since 1999, making the entire affair look a little one-sided.
But all is not lost. Talk to Hernando, and you'll see. The border rivalry is very much alive.
"For me, it's a big deal. It's a big deal around here," senior lineman Windham Rotunda said. "It's just one of the games I look on the schedule and say, "We've got to get that one.' "
That's as true as ever this year, with Hernando losing the previous four installments of the series. The Leopards lead 34-18-2 all-time, but have lost nine of the past 12 games. Tonight they travel to Dade City to face the 0-2 Pirates, hoping to build on last week's 30-20 win over Ridgewood.
"It's make or break. This is the point where we need to turn our season," Rotunda said. "We need to go into district season with a full head of confidence."
Against Pasco, keeping one's head is the key. Over the years emotions have run high. Veteran seniors like Rotunda remember 2001, when Pasco planted its skull-and-crossbones flag at midfield in Tom Fisher Stadium, receiving a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before the game even started.
Chad Sanders lost his head before halftime last year, scrapping with a Pasco receiver after the whistle. Both threw punches and were ejected, and Sanders had to sit out another week's game.
"We don't like them, they don't like us," said Sanders, the Leopards' leading rusher this year. "It's a real attitude game, but you've got to stay focused with it at the same time."
Caparaso agrees with staying focused, yet all the fuss baffles him.
"It's no bigger deal than any other," Caparaso said. "I prep for this just like any other game."
Hernando will agree to disagree. "It's just an intense football game," coach Matt Smith said. "Our kids really want to get out there and get after it."
THE LAST FIVE
2003: Pasco 17, Hernando 13
Pirates star receiver Johnny Peyton, now at South Florida, was hampered with the flu but still caught the game-winning touchdown and had a key interception in the second half.
2002: Pasco 40, Hernando 23 _ This one was over by halftime, with Pasco up 34-7 thanks to four touchdowns in an 11-minute span of the first half. Hernando's Jagren Castillo ended up with 219 total yards in the loss.
2001: Pasco 15, Hernando 6 _ Charley Combs scored on a 46-yard run to get the Leopards to within 9-6 early in the fourth quarter, but the Pirates' ground game prevailed in a defensive battle.
2000: Pasco 35, Hernando 7 _ The Leopards had six yards of offense in the second half in a lopsided affair. Pasco threw the ball for a touchdown with 2:26 left and added a two-point conversion. "Put it this way: I, myself, as a head football coach, would not do that," Hernando coach Bill Browning said.
1999: Hernando 27, Pasco 21 _ Hernando's last win in the series was a thriller, with each team trading scores and the tying touchdown pass glancing off Pirate wideout Joe Bain's fingertips as he dove out the corner of the end zone with seven seconds left.
Hernando quarterback Antonio Brown and the Leopards failed to cash in on three chances inside the Pasco 10-yard-line, opportunities dearly missed in a 17-13 loss that pushed their Pasco losing streak to four games.