MERRILLVILLE | By the time Phil Mason was dumped with ice water with 15 seconds remaining in a 52-7 Class 3A North Semistate win on Friday, the Andrean football coach wasn't even thinking that could be an option.
When asked at what point it started to sink in that his team was a semistate champion, the answer was equally as difficult to imagine.
"That's a heck of a question. When we were up 35-0, we're good but are we that good?" Mason said. "I guess we are. Holy cow."
This is not Mason's first regular-season undefeated team, but three seasons ago, the semistate wasn't even on anyone's mind after a surprise loss in the sectional.
Last year came the first regional win for Mason, followed by a two-touchdown loss in the semistate.
Gone is any chance of stigma for Mason's abilities to win in a big game.
"We do this for Coach, it's the biggest thing," linebacker Tylor Petkovich said. "We love him. We love him."
Mason isn't in any of this for himself.
"We're going to state," Mason said. "This team, it's a whole team effort. You hear the same names all the time, but there's 65 guys who are out here all the time.
"All 28 of those seniors have done it all and they've been great leaders, that's what I'm most proud of. ... This is my sixth year as a head coach and it defines what you do in a program. These kids have bought into everything we've asked them to do."
While Andrean might be considered a powerhouse, with a 58-19 record in Mason's six years on Broadway, plus 50-12 in five years with Brett St. Germaine before that. This will be the Niners' fifth trip to the state championship game, but this is the first time under Mason and the first in nine years.
Last year was a first of sorts for the coach. After three tries in four years, Mason won the regional on his fourth shot. He proved he could do it again when the Niners shook off an injury to Matt DeSomer to make it two in a row.
When it came to the semistate Friday, the Niners proved they'd been there before.
Three touchdowns in the first quarter. A 35-0 lead at halftime. The defense was unreal: when the offense created a turnover, the defense immediately got the ball back.
"Our defense is a work in process and towards the end they were doing what we wanted them to do," Mason said.
Now they're doing what they all wanted to do. The dream that was deferred after last year's five-overtime regional excitement, will be realized at Lucas Oil Stadium.