ROSS TOWNSHIP — His season and high school career over, Indiana senior Cody Squiric could have shed some tears Friday night and no one would have blamed him.
Instead, the 300-pound lineman flashed a bright smile and beamed proudly when asked about his team, the one that had just lost by 31 points in the playoffs.
“We love each other,” he said, stretching his muscular arms out, gesturing to his teammates. “We’re one big family. I have no regrets. This is a giant plus for me, and for all of us.”
The Indians’ hopes of pulling off a monumental upset never quite materialized, and their season ended abruptly with a mercy-rule shortened 38-7 loss to No. 1-seeded West Allegheny on a cold night at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium. But while some teams might have mourned the end of their playoff runs, the Indians instead stuck around and bonded over the knowledge that they proved a lot of the doubters wrong.
Five weeks ago, Indiana lost a game it shouldn’t have, to Greensburg Salem, and its WPIAL Class AAA playoff hopes seemed dim. But the Indians rallied together and won their final two conference games to secure a postseason berth, and then they knocked off host Ringgold last week in the opening round of the playoffs.
That’s not a bad run for a team left for dead in Greensburg.
“To get back here, to get to this position is a great accomplishment,” said Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas. “We made it to the final eight, and I think that speaks volumes about what these kids accomplished.”
But Friday night, against a West Allegheny team that played like a well-oiled machine, Indiana never really had a chance. Sure, it was down just 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, but the defending WPIAL champs scored 17 points in the second quarter to open up a big lead, and then they tacked on two more scores in the third quarter to enact the mercy rule.
West Allegheny’s second-quarter run was fueled by a fumble recovery that turned the momentum against Indiana.
“Football is a game of momentum,” Squiric said. “I get that. But in order to get momentum, you have to make plays, and we did make plays tonight. But they made better plays, and that’s just how it happens sometimes.”
The turnover stopped an Indiana drive, but the West Allegheny defense also did a lot to keep Indiana in check. Longtime coach Bob Palko said he was surprised with how well his defense played — it allowed just 47 rushing yards — considering it had never faced an offense like Indiana’s.
“We don’t get a chance to see (an offense) like the one they run,” Palko said. “So it’s hard to duplicate that in practice. And no one we’ve played has had that. And they’ve got two big wideouts who are tough matchups, and a nice fullback and some pretty good linemen. So that’s a pretty tough offense to line up against.”
But Palko admitted the physical nature of the game probably helped his team gain the crucial turnover that gave his team a lift.
“That wasn’t a pillow fight out there,” he said. “There was some smacking going on. With that comes turnovers.”
Indiana got on the board midway through the fourth quarter, when fullback DeQuan West, who scored the Indians’ first touchdown of the season 10 weeks ago, scored their last one on a 5-yard run with 6:17 to play.
The Indiana defense couldn’t match the West Allegheny defense in terms of making stops or forcing turnovers. West Allegheny running back Chayse Dillon rushed for a game-high 131 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Andrew Koester passed for 132 yards and three scores, including two to Jed Buck.
“I think our kids played hard tonight, but that’s a great football team over there,” Zilinskas said. “They’re well-coached. They executed well on both sides of the ball, and they got momentum early, and that was the difference tonight.”
A little more than two hours after the game started, Indiana walked off the field on the bad end of a lopsided loss, but it was one Squiric wasn’t about to make excuses for.
And he certainly wasn’t going to cry about it.
“We lost to a good team,” he said. “They’re 11-0 now. I’m not upset. We turned it around from losing those games to now. I’m proud of every one of us on this team. We’re a family.”