To this day, Perry Brown still can’t believe it.
He can’t believe it happened, and the Hall of Fame football coach can’t believe it’s still the only time it happened.
“Back in 1991,” the former Pasco High Football coach said, “when we made a good run, but lost to Santa Fe, (myself and the coaches) would go to coaching clinics and they would say, ‘Perry, you did a great job, but you won’t win a state championship — because Pasco County is just not a football county.’
“And you get butterflies, just thinking about something of that magnitude — an undefeated team, with the fear of letdown, that if you don’t get this one, well, what a season it was, but you’re still second best.”
Brown paused, then said, “If I remember anything about that game, it’s the final score. … I really thought someone, if not Pasco (High) again, would have (a state title) by now.”
On Dec. 18, the 1992 Pasco Pirates football team celebrated its 30th anniversary of the school’s, and county’s, only state football title.
There was no parade down Seventh Avenue or special ceremony at a home game at W.F. Edwards Stadium.
Instead, players and coaches — many with deep ties and still living in the Dade City community — reflected on that fateful night in Gainesville when the Pirates (14-0) defeated Tampa Jesuit 28-16 for the AAA state championship.
“How can I explain it? — one of the best things of my life. One of the best things I’ve ever accomplished and the one thing I honestly know I started and finished all the way,” said Jackie Tucker, a former nose guard who graduated in 1994. “I’m getting butterflies now just thinking about it and the community love from then — that’s what I got out of it.
“And there should have been more (state titles). Could have been three — a dynasty. It’s still crazy that there hasn’t been another one.”
Crazier still is that Pasco (491-360-20), as the most successful postseason team (19-17) in the county, is the only other county team to even come close to winning a state title.
In fact, no other Pasco County football team has made the state tournament, or the final four teams in their classification. Mitchell and Land O’ Lakes have both come close, but fallen in the region final round. Even 9 Mile War rival Zephyrhills has joined that fray, losing in the region final this season 26-9 to Lake Wales on Nov. 25.
“It’s — how can I say? — bragging rights in a way,” Tucker said. “The only one that did it all. You think in 30 years someone would have, but it’s nuts no one has.”
In 1983, the Pirates were 12-1, but fell one game shy of the state final, losing to Palatka 18-13. And in 1991, prior to the championship run, Pasco was handed a 35-16 loss by Santa Fe, ending in another 12-1 season.
“When I went (to Pasco), of course, it was starting from scratch, and we struggled the first year — the second year, we won eight games, so it was a process,” said Brown, who went 58-22 from 1989 to 1995 as the Pirates head coach. “In 1992, we pushed those kids pretty hard.”
It was just 11 years ago that Pasco was in the midst of another storybook season, as a dominating, undefeated team that looked destined for, at least, a state final appearance. The team was led by former head coach Tom McHugh and incredible all-around player Janarion Grant, but it lost a heartbreaking, triple-overtime game to Wakulla.
“I was rooting for that team,” Brown said. “I was even at that game. … Those kids, they’re trying to win a state title, too, and you want them to succeed.
“But someone tried to tell me (the 2011) team could beat our (1992) team … and I was like, ‘I don’t know about that. Maybe.’ I like to think we had more grit.”
That grit came in the form of the coaches holding players accountable, even if it meant literally dragging them from bed for early-morning practices.
“You, as a player and teenager, wanted to sleep in,” Tucker said. “But sometimes you’d wake up and coach would be standing over you in bed. … Whenever we did have adversity, it was easy to overcome because the coaches, who had been with us through PAL and middle school, were like uncles.”
There certainly was adversity, most notably right before the state championship game. Just days before the game, quarterback Isaac Johnson, who would pass for 124 yards and a touchdown, was arrested on an outstanding warrant for assault.
Johnson spent the night at the Land O’ Lakes detention center and was released just 12 hours before the game. He was rushed to Dade City, just as the team was headed out on the bus through downtown, with nearly every resident and citizen sending them off in style.
“With Isaac getting arrested, it kind of rallied us together,” said Pasco 1994 grad and the team’s kicker and punter, Brent Lockliear. (He went on to play for Ball State and lives in Indianapolis to this day).
“It was the us-against-everyone-else mentality, where they’re even trying to take our quarterback and shut us down.
“But all the way to Gainesville, we would see banners they had put up on I-75 to support us. … It was just incredible, with an incredible team,” Lockliear said.
The Pirates and the county’s other high school teams share the collective desire to bring home another state championship to the county, but for now — after 30 years, the only champs remain in Dade City.
The historic 1992 Pasco Pirates.
“I was fishing once, with one of my coaches, and he got a call and said he was with one of the players from the 1992 championship,” Lockliear said. “So, 25 years later, you’re still referred to as a player on the state championship — that’s a big honor. “For the guys who still live in Dade City, every day they are looked on as part of the only state championship.”
“Everyone wanted (the title) bad, as bad as us, even former players (at the time),” Tucker added. “We’re looked at as the legacy, which will always mean something in this city.”
Even so, Brown said: “It would not break my heart to see another team, especially Pasco, win a state championship.”
Published December 21, 2022