MERRILLVILLE | A year's worth of pain hung on Nick Serrato's shoulders. The weight was akin to a semi trailer filled with bags of cement.
All of the Andrean 59ers had this hanging on them on Oct. 19, thanks to a 12-7 loss to Wheeler in last year's Class 2A sectional opener.
The draw pitted the two teams against each other again; this time, though, in Union Twp. Before kickoff, the Bearcats huddled and did a break.
They yelled, "Repeat."
That's when Serrato blew a gasket.
"No (expletive) way," he screamed at the Wheeler players. "No way. That is not going to happen again."
Andrean's 63-13 win proved the kind of senior leadership the 2012 59ers have.
Andrean (10-2) will travel to Lewis Cass (11-1) on Friday night for the regional championship. The 'Niners have won five regional championships in school history, but none since 2004, the season Andrean won the Class 3A state championship.
"In my basement, in my little weight room, I put up the Wheeler symbol and hung it on my closet door," Serrato said. "I looked at it every day."
Only 14 seniors started this season on Andrean's roster. With injuries, only 10 remain.
"This is one of the smaller senior classes I've had," Andrean coach Phil Mason said. "But these guys have really taken on great leadership. In the weight room, on the practice field, these guys have done a great job with a very young team."
Senior offensive lineman Dennis Fielder didn't have a Wheeler Bearcat hanging on his bedroom wall. It may have been worse. He said his parents constantly reminded him of the shocking upset last year.
He got motivation along with breakfast for 365 days.
"That woke me up," Fielder said. "It made me work. I didn't want to ever go through that again."
The Kings are a very good team and have two big wins this year, one over West Lafayette and another over Bremen.
Cass runs a Wing T offense. Quarterback Sheldon Slusser is a big, strong player. The Kings' "go-to" guy is Drew Shepherd, who plays every position where he can get the ball.
"I think our strength of schedule is to our advantage," Mason said. "But this is a good team. We have to play our game. We have to limit our turnovers."
Serrato believes the 59ers must play fast and get to the ball with speed. He also knows Andrean must have full focus for four quarters. The momentary lapses could end the season in a couple of hours.
"We've got to be ready," he said. "I've only experienced losses in the regional. This is not only for us. This is for coach and for all those guys last year."
"We have to fight for those who were here before us," Fielder said. "We have to fight for the ones who are here now. And we have to fight for those in the future."