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The team that orchestrated one of the most memorable victories in the long and storied history of Pittsburg High School football will be honored this weekend.
Thirty-two years after their victory over De La Salle at the Oakland Coliseum in a North Coast Section championship game, the 1991 Pirates are being inducted into the school’s football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Their 35-27 win in the 3A final is still relevant because not a single team from the NCS has beaten De La Salle since then.
The link between the Pirates of that era and the modern-day team remains intertwined as Charlie Ramirez, a sophomore linebacker in 1991, is entering his first season as head coach at his alma mater this fall.
In 1991, Herc Pardi was in his first season as Pittsburg’s head coach after being promoted from the junior varsity.
He coached the Pirates for five seasons and then his alma mater, Clayton Valley, for 16 years before stepping down in 2012.
What was the secret to victory?
“It all came down to the kids believed,” Pardi said last week. “Somebody asked me, ‘Geez, can you guys do it?’ I said, ‘They believe they can.’
“At halftime, it was 21-21 and I watched our team sprint off the field to a makeshift locker room in the Coliseum and then they sprinted back out. They were so laser-focused on this game.
“And, quite frankly, they played the best game of their lives that night. De La Salle beat us earlier (that season) 28-16 and it was a situation where we just had a good feeling about it.
“The community was so supportive. The postgame celebration went on for a while. There was a parade, some get-togethers and celebrations.”
Pittsburg coach Herc Pardi holds the trophy aloft after the Pirates defeated De La Salle in the 1991 NCS 3A final at the Oakland Coliseum. (Peter Bradt/staff archives)
Pardi credited a coaching staff that included Joe Aliotti, Jerry Haflich, Lenny Davis and Sam Quinones and a strong group of players who grew up playing youth football in Pittsburg and had back-to-back undefeated seasons at the junior varsity level.
“It came down to your players and the adjustments that were made,” Pardi said.
One of those adjustments, Pardi noted, was the spread offense the Pirates used in the third quarter. Aliotti, the quarterback coach who eventually moved on to De La Salle, put the then-uncommon scheme into the playbook for the Spartans.
“It kind of stumped them,” Pardi said. “We went right down the field. Scored. They had to call a timeout.”
Ultimately, though, it was the players who turned the mission into a reality.
“Being a sophomore on that team, it was following the senior leadership that we had, ” Ramirez said, mentioning quarterback Chris Shipe and running back Percy McGee, in addition to elite players such as defensive end Regan Upshaw, a future NFL first-round pick.
“How they prepared and how they went through the offseason, they set the bar,” Ramirez added. “They set the bar high throughout the entire process. For us to win it, it was expected.”
The victory was clinched when McGee intercepted a pass late in the game and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown and Dyshun Beshears followed with a strip-sack fumble — his fourth sack of the game — that Upshaw recovered with just seconds on the clock.
“The critical point in the game was in the third quarter when they controlled the ball,” De La Salle running back Patrick Walsh, now Serra’s longtime coach, told the San Francisco Examiner during the postgame interviews. “We gave it all we had. It just didn’t turn the way we hoped.”
Ramirez still remembers the jubilant bus ride back to school that took a detour through Pittsburg’s main street before reaching its destination.
“We were going through downtown Pittsburg, going across the Mecca (Cafe),” he said. “People were coming out of the Mecca and everywhere downtown. The bus is honking. People were on the streets, cheering and clapping. Then getting back to campus and basically everybody that was at the Coliseum is now at the campus in front of the creative arts building, cheering us on.”
De La Salle, led the next season by a senior class that included Walsh, would not lose again until the season opener in 2004.
The Spartans won a national record 151 consecutive games after Pittsburg’s memorable moment.