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Hutton: Wheeler loss still haunts Andrean

Andrean head football coach Phil Masreacts after his team threw an interceptiresulting Wheeler touchdown during second quarter during sectional play

Andrean head football coach Phil Mason reacts after his team threw an interception resulting in a Wheeler touchdown during the second quarter during sectional play at Andrean High School in Merrillville, Ind., Friday, October 21, 2011. | Guy Rhodes~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 9, 2012 6:21AM



MERRILLVILLE — Most losses, you get over.

Normal explanations for a typical loss, some of which are never for public consumption, include:

Beat by a better team.

Bad luck.

Lousy officiating.

Injured player or players.

Inferior coaching.

OK, you get the point. There is always a reason, always a way to explain a loss, even if it’s done at night, in your most private moments, with your closest confidant, away from the heat of game.

Nearly 10 months later, with the high school football preseason in full swing, with a new coach in place at Wheeler now that Dan Klimczak has moved onto South Central, and with expectations more subdued for Andrean than in previous years, there is no rational way for the 59ers to articulate their sectional-opening 12-7 defeat to the Bearcats. None. There is nothing to say to make it easier or better or to synthesize the improbable, unbelievable outcome of the game. A new season is just nine days away and the loss is a verboten subject among players.

“I can’t even talk about it,” fullback Zack Kogut said. “I can’t process it. I just can’t.”

Andrean coach Phil Mason figures he’s watched the tape of the game two dozen times. He devoured it like an obsessed detective, looking for clues to a heinous crime, well into the early morning hours after the game. It never gets any easier.

“Um, it’s like you’re drowning in something,” Mason said.

What the 59ers were drowning in were their own turnovers and a classic case of getting too impatient, and then playing nervously as the game wore on and Wheeler hung in there.

Here is what Andrean, rightfully so, believed before the game:

That it was the far better team than the Bearcats. Both teams were 9-0, but Wheeler’s schedule was infinitely easier than Andrean’s. The 59ers had defeated Merrillville, Lowell, Munster and Griffith. Wheeler had defeated a whole bunch of mediocre teams by a lot. It meant nothing going into that game against the 59ers.

Furthermore, the Bearcats were playing without starting quarterback Nick Naspinski, a huge part of their offense. He was injured. Andrean had prepared dutifully that week, renting out a dome in Crown Point to practice in when its field turned to mush because of heavy rain.

In many ways, the 59ers’ preparation showed.

They were better in many ways than Wheeler that night.

They held Wheeler to 18 yards of total offense and they allowed just one offensive first down.

They held the Bearcats to minus-18 yards in the second half.

They piled up more than 200 yards of rushing.

That didn’t get it done.

What got it done for the Bearcats was an interception by Adam Abrell that turned into a touchdown. Offensively, the whole second half was a series of three-and-outs for Wheeler.

What lost it for Andrean was nine turnovers. The 59ers fumbled nine times and lost seven and they also threw two interceptions.

Mason said his whole defense was going crazy on the sidelines, watching the offense self-destruct time and time again.

“I told them to do something about it,” he said.

There were other issues. Mason went for it twice on fourth down around midfield and Andrean didn’t make it either time.

Quarterback Matt DeSomer didn’t pass the ball particularly well, meaning Wheeler could gang up on Mason Zurek.

Wheeler shortened the contest, turning what normally is a 55-play game into just 42. Factor in the nine turnovers and the 59ers were asking for serious trouble. Mason gives all the credit to Wheeler, as he should. The Bearcats won. They deserved it.

But he won’t soon forget or try to figure out what went so horribly wrong for his team in what was a marvelous, perfect regular season. That one lousy game ruined it all. Mason couldn’t ever forget, no matter how hard he tried.



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