HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Upset-minded Indians to face undefeated West Mifflin
On paper, Indiana appears to have a seriously difficult task at hand.
Coming off back-to-back seven-point losses, the Indians are in a regrouping stage, and they know they must get better quickly in order to maintain any hopes of reaching the WPIAL playoffs. So what would be nice right now is one of those feel-good kind of wins that makes things just a bit easier.
Instead, the Indians get a date Friday night with West Mifflin.
Undefeated West Mifflin. The ninth-ranked team in the state. A squad that has outscored its six opponents 273-62 and has enacted the mercy rule four times in six games.
That West Mifflin.
The team that whipped Indiana last season 29-0 en route to a berth in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game.
And there’s one more thing: The Titans will bring the most explosive player in this half of the state to Andy Kuzneski Field in tailback Jimmy Wheeler, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound beast who has rushed for 1,569 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. And that came after he gained 2,226 yards and scored 29 touchdowns last year.
“He is,” said Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas, “head and shoulders better than anyone else around.”
Digest all that, and then consider the facts about the Indians:
• They have lost two games in a row and four of their past five.
• Their two wins came against teams that are a combined 3-9.
• Jacob Zilinskas, who has never started a varsity game, will be under center at quarterback Friday because of an injury to Sean Thompson.
It’s pretty clear what’s going to happen here, right?
Mark Zilinskas doesn’t think so, and neither do his players.
“It’s like we’ve been saying: If we don’t think we can win this game, then we should just call them and cancel the game,” the 12th-year coach said. “We are going out there with one goal in mind, and that’s to knock off a great football team.”
And Zilinskas thinks it’s possible.
But even if the Indians do pull off the upset, they won’t be any closer to a playoff spot than when the game began. That’s because this is a non-conference game, and it won’t impact Indiana’s standing in the WPIAL Greater Allegheny Conference.
So the good news is this: Although winning this game looks like a near-impossible task, the Indians will be playing with a net because a loss won’t hurt them. So they’re planning to get after the Titans and try to make things difficult for Wheeler and Co.
To do that, the Indians must avoid the kind of mistakes they made the past two weeks, when they lost to Highlands (21-14) and Greensburg Salem (28-21). Had those two games gone the Indians’ way, they would be 4-2 and in the thick of the race for the conference title. Instead, they are 2-4 and need to beat Knoch next week and Hollidaysburg the week after to have any shot at getting into the playoffs.
So this game, on paper, looks difficult. But in Zilinskas’ eyes, it’s an opportunity to build momentum.
“The whole idea of improving from week to week has to be there,” Zilinskas said. “We want to prove something this week and not take a step backward. You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, and we want to take a step in the right direction.”
Yes, it will be tough. But the longtime coach thinks it’s doable.
“We’ve got to go out and play defense, create some turnovers and do the things that teams do to give themselves a shot at a win,” he said. “We’re not going to roll over. The kids are excited about this opportunity to make a statement.”