Some went so far as to call it the best region football team ever.
Led by the all-state trio of Jamel Williams (Nebraska), Dave Joseforsky (Navy) and Zac Wells (St. Joseph's College), the 1992 Merrillville Pirates rolled into to the semistate with a perfect record.
But in the one-and-done nature that is the postseason, the Pirates' dream of a state title was dashed by Fort Wayne Snider on a wet Spuller Field at Northrop High School. A long Panthers touchdown run in the last minute beat the Bucs, 14-7.
"I don't remember a lot of details," then-Merrillville coach Rick Wimmer said this week. "I know we played really good defense against them, but they scored with like 27 seconds to go. We felt like we had our opportunities. I do remember we were stopped inside the 10 at one point. That was a pretty formidable group."
Almost 20 years later, some of the memories have faded, but the feeling hadn't. In 2010, Wimmer talked to his Fishers team that won the 5A state title about his '92 Pirates.
"I told them I had three teams who were good enough to get back to the state finals and that was one of them," he said. "I told them that because I wanted them to understand how fortunate they were to have that opportunity. It's so hard to do. When you get those, you have to take advantage of them and do everything you can to get it done. I'm sure that's probably something Zac thinks about."
It's not exactly returning to the scene of the crime, but Wells heads back to Fort Wayne today with the Pirates to face Snider, this time as a coach. He steered conversation this week toward his team rather than the one he played for.
Wimmer recalls Wells, a bruising fullback and linebacker, missing part of his senior season with an infection that hospitalized him at one point.
"I'm not sure he was 100 percent, but we were glad to have him back," Wimmer said. "We needed him. You take a Zac Wells out of the lineup, it's a pretty significant loss. He was an outstanding blocker, though he was really known as a linebacker."
Were it not for a late Snider comeback from a 14-point deficit against Fishers, Wimmer would've been matching wits with his former player tonight rather than simply pulling for him.
"I still probably feel like we should be playing," he said. "I would've loved (to play Merrillville). It just shows you how difficult it is."
Wimmer wasn't part of Northwest Indiana coaching circles all that long, but he's come to realize, even a couple decades later, that you never lose your ties to our corner of the state.
Joe Atria is a remaining link to his staff. His defensive line coach, Mike Krutz, is now the Merrillville principal.
"It may sound cliche, but Zac was like a coach on the field," Krutz said. "He lined everyone up, got them where they were supposed to be. He was a student of the game. He expects excellence in everything he does. If you're picking sides, he's a guy you want on your team."
Wimmer typically doesn't go to a game the week after his team loses, but was thinking about making an exception in this instance.
"There are a lot of people there I'm very fond of," Wimmer said. "It's great for Zac and his guys. I wish them the best. I hope they pull it off and I think they can."
This column represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org