HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Indians look to begin stretch run with strong showing against Golden Lions
Despite being 2-3 in Greater Allegheny Conference play, the road ahead is pretty clear for the Indiana Indians.
The Indians know this to be true: If they win at least two of their remaining three conference games, they will certainly go to the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
That might seem like a tough task for a team that has lost three of the five games it has played thus far. But considering the Indians’ losses have come to the first-, second- and third-place teams in the conference — Highlands, Mars and Franklin Regional — the road ahead will be less challenging.
“The main thing we have to focus on is that a win Friday gives us a chance later on,” said Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas, whose team takes on Greensburg Salem (1-4) at Offutt Field.
Indiana is in seventh place in the nine-team Greater Allegheny Conference. The top five earn playoff berths, and the Indians have games remaining against eighth-place Greensburg Salem; fifth-place Knoch (3-2) on Oct. 18; and sixth-place Hollidaysburg (2-3) on Oct. 25. Next Friday, the Indians play host to West Mifflin in a non-conference game.
The Indians already own wins over fourth-place Hampton (33-7) and last-place Derry (56-6).
On paper, at least, the Greensburg Salem, Knoch and Hollidaysburg games are all winnable for the Indians.
“But regardless of if we’re 2-3 right now or undefeated,” Zilinskas said, “we still have to improve as a team. Anything can happen at the end of the season. We just need to get to 3-3 and then work from there.”
So that means the focus this week has been on the rebuilding Lions, who are in the first year with a new coach, former IUP player Dave Keefer. Greensburg Salem opened the season with a surprising 20-14 win over Knoch, but it has lost its past four games by a combined score of 146-48.
“They’ve got a couple good athletes,” Zilinskas said. “They beat Knoch at the beginning of the season, so I look at them as a dangerous team. I really think momentum will be the key.”
Zilinskas sees this as an elimination game of sorts.
“We have to look at it as us or Greensburg,” he said. “If we hand them their fifth loss, it would be tough for them (to get to the playoffs).”
The Indians and Lions have played three times since Indiana dropped to Class AAA from Class AAAA in 2004. The Indians have won each game: 41-23 (2012), 49-7 (2007) and 20-15 (2006).
The Indians are coming off a 21-14 loss to first-place Highlands last week. Indiana had several chances to take control of the game, and even had the ball on the last play of the game, when a touchdown would have tied the score. But the Indians ultimately fell short, and the Rams escaped with a hard-fought win.
Zilinskas said his main concern this week has been getting the players to focus on what they did right and not letting them sulk too much about the loss.
“Just like anything else, it’s always tough to come back after a loss,” he said. “It’s frustrating to be so close. We pointed out how many different opportunities we had to win the game. (Highlands is) a good team, but it just didn’t go our way. It’s hard to balance the frustration with the optimism. Does it overshadow the good things? So we as coaches try to emphasize the positives. But obviously what’s done is done, and it’s difficult knowing that we probably can’t finish at the top.”
So the Indians are moving on. They’re focusing on getting better every day and on beating the next opponent on the schedule.
After that, who really knows what will happen?
“The team that starts out with the momentum will be hard to stop,” Zilinskas said. “We’re going into this with an us-or-them mentality.”