MERRILLVILLE | The pressure was everywhere. You could cut it with a knife.
This was the kind of sweat that hangs on a program that hasn't won a big game in a long time and the stress on a coach trying to shed the underachiever label.
Andrean cleats clicked along the asphalt of the west end zone at Father Eckert Field last Friday. They moved past the spot on the turf where an old friend once sat and watched them play.
While some waited for another indigestible defeat, the polar opposite did. The 59ers ran onto the field with a singular purpose and a pounding pulse that beat as one.
The players, to a man, gave credit to their coach, Phil Mason, for giving a pregame speech that prepared them for the game against West Lafayette and beyond.
"Coach was very emotional," senior offensive lineman Alex Khadivar said. "He spoke about leaving a legacy."
"Everything he talked about was about his dad," senior linebacker Noah Pavlina said. "We wanted to win it for him. We wanted to win it for his family."
In the aged Andrean locker room, Mason spoke to his team, before they rushed out and beat West Lafayette, 52-7, in the Class 3A Northern Semistate, setting up Friday's state final against Indianapolis Brebeuf at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Mason's words echoed in the dank room.
"I was with him when he died," Mason said of his father. "I held his hand."
Bruce Mason died in April at the age of 90. The 59ers remembered him in a wheelchair in the end zone closest to the school. He cheered them on loudly until failing health kept him at home.
"To a lot of people Bruce Mason is just a name on a tombstone," his son told the team. "If you walk by in the cemetery who really knows who he is? You guys have a chance to make a mark and not be just another name on a tombstone."
Bruce Mason grew up in Lansing. He went to World War II and brought home a wife from England, Marge. He worked at Pullman Standard. Like others from his generation, he raised four kids.
He was thankful for the blessings in his life.
"I remember him in the end zone," Pavlina said. "He was in his wheelchair. He was cheering for us. He was our biggest fan."
Only Valparaiso (12-0) in 1975 and Hobart (14-0) in 1987 have won a state championship from the region undefeated. Top-ranked Andrean has a chance to put something special on its stone.
"My dad was a great man, but only his family and the people who knew him knew that," Mason said. "That's what I want these kids to realize. You don't get an opportunity like this very often.
"This is their chance to leave a legacy."
The players said his speech threw off any pressure and allowed them to play free and easy. To emote in such a way connected with these teenage boys whose world lets them think they will live forever.
"Football is an emotional sport," Albomonte said. "You can't play it if you're not emotional. Bruce gave us what we needed to get to state. Now, we have one more game."
Knute Rockne, move to the side, please.
"It's crazy," Pavlina added. "We have one more game and we want to win it for him, for coach. After listening to the speech we all realized one thing.
"We are now (Bruce's) legacy. He lives on in us."