By Steve Lee
DADE CITY — The 9-Mile War between longtime high school football rivals Pasco and Zephyrhills is the county’s regular-season Super Bowl, not to mention its oldest rivalry.
The east Pasco cities are nine miles apart — hence the name — and the Oct. 2 game at Dade City’s W.F. Edwards Stadium will be the 52nd meeting in the series.
The county’s second-oldest rivalry is on the west side with Gulf and Hudson having squared off 38 times. But those teams were often dismal and have not been near as successful as perennial playoff contenders Pasco and Zephyrhills.
A week before the game, the trash-talking began in earnest with principals from both schools getting in their shots.
“He’s done a lot of talking,” Pasco principal Pat Reedy said of Steve Van Gordon, his counterpart at Zephyrhills. “I just let his lips flap. I told him, ‘Be careful.’”
Van Gordon, hired from Hudson Middle during the summer, is in his first few months as Zephyrhills’ principal. However, he is hardly new to the fierce rivalry.
Van Gordon was once hired by Reedy as a teacher at Pasco Middle and also coached wrestling at the high school in Dade City. He also is that city’s vice mayor.
“I’m very familiar with it,” Van Gordon said of the longstanding rivalry. “This is huge. You’ve got grandparents, and fathers and sons who’ve played in the game. Pasco High and Zephyrhills High are steeped in tradition.”
Perhaps that is why no game in the county sells out as consistently as the 9-Mile War and this year will be no different. Football fans, former players and coaches alike come from throughout the county and beyond. Count Matt McDermott among them.
McDermott, an assistant principal at Wesley Chapel and a former athletic director at Sunlake, spent 11 years at Zephyrhills prior to those positions. He coached wrestling and was a football assistant for the Bulldogs during that span.
McDermott plans on attending this year’s game “if (the Wildcats) don’t have a home game.” Wesley Chapel travels to Mitchell Oct. 2, which frees up McDermott for a Friday night trip to Dade City.
“Both teams, or at least one of them, is usually competing for a district title,” McDermott said of the stakes for the annual Pasco-Zephyrhills game. “It’s a 9-Mile War, and I think it will remain that.”
Pasco (2-1) leads the all-time series 35-16 and is coming off back-to-back district championships that included a berth in last year’s state semifinals.
Zephyrhills (0-3) has clearly struggled. Setbacks include offseason transfers, injuries and a coaching controversy that left former assistants Troy Hochstetler and Greg Mathis sharing sideline duties.
When it comes to the 9-Mile War, however, the records can be thrown out. On Oct. 2, the battle is on.