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Pinellas still looking for a state title

By BOB PUTNAM

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


Two teams. One night. Zero state titles.

On Dec. 19, 1987, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs played for state titles, both at home, 12 miles apart from one another. It was the first and only time Pinellas County has had two teams play for state titles on the same night, a night dubbed Super Friday.

It turned out to be a super heartbreak.

Tarpon Springs led Fort Lauderdale Dillard 6-0 with 2:57 remaining. But Dillard scored twice and won 14-6. Dunedin fell behind 14-0 and rallied. But it was too late, and the Falcons lost 14-10.

That night pretty much sums up how Pinellas County has fared in state title games.

Since 1963, the year the Florida High School Activities Association began holding playoffs to determine a champion, Pinellas County teams have played in seven state championship games.

Among the Suncoast counties -- Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas -- that ranks second. Hillsborough has eight.

Yet Hillsborough has three state titles (Jesuit in '68, Blake in '69 and Lithia Pinecrest in '69). Pasco has one (Pasco High in '92). Pinellas has none. The county is 0-7 in state finals and has lost in every way imagineable.

Actually, the county has won a state title. Tarpon Springs won the small school title in 1953. But that was a mythical title, one that came before the current playoff structure and was voted on by schools.

The St. Petersburg High team of 1925, which allowed only three points all season and went 10-0, also won a mythical title. But its title was stripped after Lakeland proved St. Petersburg used several ineligible players.

It took 12 years once the playoff system was in place for a county team to reach the final. Shorecrest, in its first year of varsity football, went 10-3 and played Greensboro for the 1975 title.

The Chargers, who had just 19 players, wore down and lost 28-0. Shorecrest reached the final the following year but lost again, this time 38-0 to Tallahassee FAMU.

The other teams to reach the final, St. Petersburg in 1984 and Dixie Hollins in 1995, also lost by wide margins. The Green Devils lost to Pensacola Escambia 41-14 as Emmitt Smith ran for 205 yards and two scores.

"We ran out of gas and, of course, we also ran into a future hall-of-famer," said Jim Mewha, the coach of that team.

The Rebels, the last team to reach the final, lost to Fort Walton Beach 24-0 in '95.

For Mewha, whose team's only loss came in the final, the experience of playing a title game is relived whenever he watches Smith run on Sundays.

"It's our last piece of glory," Mewha said. "I talked to a lot of the guys on the team, and they feel the same way. Watching Emmitt do well always lets us remember that year.

"It was a great time and so fun for the kids. I know the county hasn't won one yet, but it'll happen someday."

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