Pats winning state title ‘is going to be amazing’

Herald file photo
Heritage Hills quarterback Jay Cutler, left, hugs teammate Adam Kress after he was presented the Phil N. Eskew Award for Mental Attitude after their 27-24 overtime win against Zionsville in the 3A state championship game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on Nov. 25, 2000. Norma Kress watched her son celebrate while she took pictures.


Adam Kress said Monday afternoon he was still hoarse from the past few days.

That’s because the 2001 Heritage Hills graduate was screaming and yelling when his alma mater triumphed in a 33-17 win Friday at Danville in semistate.

This year is only the third year in the history of Heritage Hills football that the Patriots are playing for the state championship. The Pats previously finished as state runner-up in 2004, but Kress is hoping the 2019 team will join the 2000 team that he played on as Class 3A state champions.

There are some similarities to the 2000 team and the 2019 team. The 2000 team went a perfect 15-0, something the 2019 squad can duplicate on Friday in the Class 3A state championship against Bishop Chatard. Both teams also endured heartbreak in prior years leading up to the magical run. The 1999 Patriot team lost, 6-3, at Mount Vernon in the sectional championship, and Heritage Hills just missed out on a state berth in 1996 with a 20-19 loss to eventual state champion Zionsville in semistate. The Pats were undefeated in last year’s regular season, until a 24-14 loss at Gibson Southern in the sectional semifinal dashed their dreams. Heritage Hills might not be in the position it is in right now if not for erasing a 13-point deficit against the Titans in a rematch this year, and blocking a field goal to win the game. Both the 2000 and 2019 teams also had to travel for postseason play, with the only home playoff game coming in the sectional championship for both teams. In 2000, it was Evansville Memorial, and in 2019, it was Southridge.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Kress said. “You turn into road warriors where you have four regular-season games at home and then you get the sectional championship at home.”

Herald file photo
Still a couple steps away from the end zone, Heritage Hills quarterback Jay Cutler began to celebrate a 27-24 overtime win against Zionsville in the 3A state championship game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on Nov. 25, 2000. The Patriots finished the season 15-0 en route to the school's first state football title.

The 2019 club has posted some crooked numbers this season, such as the 69-6 runaway Sept. 6 against Pike Central, or scoring a minimum of 40 points every week for six straight weeks from Sept. 20-Oct. 25. But the 2000 team did that and more on a larger scale. This year’s Pats have posted five shutouts en route to a berth in the state championship game.

The 2000 team that Kress was an offensive lineman and linebacker on had six shutouts through their first eight games, which included a 79-0 win Sept. 1 against Wood Memorial, 65-0 Sept. 22 against Tecumseh, 63-0 the next week at Gibson Southern and 90-0 the week after that at Pike Central. Led by future NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, the Pats outscored opponents, 719-61, going into the state championship at the RCA Dome against Zionsville.

“It was just such a roller coaster, but we were just having fun,” Kress said. “Being up 40, 50 points, 60 points at halftime, there was something about our team that we never let off the gas — never started out slow, never came out not ready to play, regardless of opponent, whether you knew you were going to win by 70 points or not.”

He said the Pats weren’t trying to run the score up, but they knew that it was game on until the coaches put other players in. Kress said that team wanted to score on every play regardless of the score or situation.

Kress showed leadership for Heritage Hills, as evidenced by earning the Mental Attitude Award following his team’s triumph in Indianapolis 19 years ago. That leadership came into action one time during the season. He said he had to call some of his teammates out in a players-only meeting after practice one day because some wanted to move on from football to playing basketball, that some were losing focus even as the team was bringing in the trophies each week. Kress believed in accountability, and being someone for the younger players to look up to. His mindset was that he didn’t know when the team’s last game would be, but the Pats had the mentality that they couldn’t be beat unless they did something to themselves to lose the game.

Herald file photo
Head coach Bob Clayton told his team just before the start of the overtime that they had the guts to pull off the overtime win.

“Once the coaches left, we kind of got everybody together, and said, ‘Hey, this is what I’m hearing,’” he recalled. “‘I don’t care who it is. I don’t know names, but screw your head on straight because we ain’t done playing yet.’”

He thinks what the players told their teammates got everybody refocused, and that the team was something to be a part of. Kress called it a turning point where everybody clicked to focus on one goal with the chance to do something special. The Pats kept on winning on the field, and winning the support of their community during their ride. He said the parents and people in the community made signs to be hung up after every championship they won. Kress said they may have believed in the team even more than the team believed in itself as the team took things week by week.

Kress’ advice to today’s team playing this week is similar to what then-coach Bob Clayton told them. He wants the 2019 Patriots to take in the moment, but remember that they have a job to do since there are a lot of distractions that happen during the week. Kress doesn’t want this year’s team to leave anything on the table because they were too caught up in the moment. Clayton told the Pats they had a job to do on every play, and they could look back and tell stories afterward.

Heritage Hills had one practice in the RCA Dome prior to the game, and Kress said being there was pretty surreal. He also said Clayton told the team to go out and take a lap around the place and get everything out of their system because it would be game time once the Pats started stretching, and that the practice would be crisp.

“We actually made it a point to go out and get that out of the way in the practice,” Kress said.

He doesn’t remember the team practice in the RCA Dome, but Heritage Hills took care of business early on with a 21-7 lead at halftime. Kress couldn’t recall the halftime speech in the locker room, but the Pats were unable to sustain their lead. The Eagles tied the game at 21 to force overtime. Kress wasn’t sure if Heritage Hills let its guard down, but knew Zionsville wasn’t going to roll over. He touted the offensive line the Eagles had, and Ryan Wagner ran for 215 yards on 39 carries that game. Kress said the team didn’t think about the game being tied. They knew the game wasn’t over, and they would fight and claw until the end. There wouldn’t have even been an overtime if a 28-yard field goal attempt by Zionsville’s Mark Nicolet with 8:40 to play in regulation hadn’t sailed wide left, keeping the game at a 21-21 score. Nicolet also missed the championship-winning field goal from 34 yards out with one second to play in regulation. He did, however, connect on a 24-yard kick to give the Eagles a 24-21 lead on their first overtime possession, and Kress said it was almost like relief, a sense of confidence, after that field goal. The Pats had the chance to respond on their ensuing possession by either tying or winning the game. Heritage Hills fumbled the snap on the first play from scrimmage, something Kress didn’t know about until he later went back and looked at the tape.

The second play from scrimmage was called, “Ace of Spades Right, Quarterback Screen.”

Herald file photo
With about 10 minutes before kickoff, Adam Kress, left, and student manager Brian Meunier found their own spaces to sit quietly before the most important game of the season.

“We’d been practicing that play for probably three weeks prior to that just to have something in your back pocket if we ever needed it,” Kress said.

Kress was the left tackle on the play, with the job to protect Cutler to make sure nobody sniffed him out. He said the future Pro Bowler rolled back out around behind him. The play involved Cutler throwing a lateral to Cole Seifrig to the right side. Cutler then sprinted into the end zone, wide open, catching Seifrig’s pass for the touchdown, resulting in a 27-24 verdict, and the Pats reaching pay dirt for their first-ever state championship.

“I remember following Jay into the end zone, and then he took off, kind of up the sideline and I was trying to chase him down to tackle him or hug him or do whatever, and it all just turned into a dog pile,” Kress said. “It was just craziness.”

Kress got emotional after the medal ceremony and being awarded the Mental Attitude Award because high school football was over for him. It meant a lot to him to go out on top. It’s something to still be proud of to this day. It was a great accomplishment for Kress to get the award, but he didn’t see it as his award alone. He said they had a great mental attitude as a team all the way through, and added they put their heads down and worked hard all through the summer and all through the season.

It didn’t feel like 19 years had gone by to him until recently. He realized none of the current team was even born when he was on the team that won state.

He’ll always predict that his Pats will come out on top, but he knows Friday will be a tough game. Kress said the top-ranked Trojans are no joke, and will provide a challenge for the No. 2 Patriots ­— the two teams have met in postseason before, and it is always a tough game. He said his three children — Carter, 11, Iyla, 8, and Camden, 7 — are huge fans of the team, and they know everybody by name with the ability to identify who did what during a play. Kress said it could instill into his children what they could do in their own athletic careers of what it would take to win and be leaders, that a small school in southern Indiana could win a state championship.

“To experience that with my kids and just to bring another state championship back to Patriot Football Nation is going to be amazing,” he said.

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