H.S. FOOTBALL: Indiana wallops Derry
You wouldn’t know it by the way he played Friday, but Keldon Spicher is still kind of rusty.
And after three seasons away from the game, the Indiana senior realized what he was missing when he wasn’t playing football.
Spicher stepped up in a big way Friday night by intercepting two passes against Derry and returning both for touchdowns to help the Indians roll to a 56-6 win in a WPIAL Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference game at Andy Kuzneski Field.
Spicher, a standout player on the Indiana lacrosse team, did not play football after eighth grade, but he chose to go out for the team for his final year of high school. The Indians are certainly glad Spicher did, because he has proven to be a key part of the team as it struggled to rebound from consecutive losses to Franklin Regional and Mars in the past two weeks.
“He’s been doing everything he can to get caught up,” Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas said. “From the first play he took at Mars until the last play he took tonight, he made some huge steps as a football player.”
Spicher wasn’t the only player to have a big night. Fullback DeQuan West gained 202 yards of offense, including 152 on the ground, and scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Sean Thompson rushed for two scores and threw for another. And Ian Scott and Jacob Zilinskas added long touchdown runs as part of Indiana’s highest-scoring game in nearly two years.
They were all part of the Indians’ overall mastery of the Trojans, who have been outscored 230-20 this season. Indiana (2-2) outgained Derry (0-4) 454-259, forced three turnovers and generally outplayed the Trojans at every turn.
“We came out and played with a lot more aggressiveness and confidence,” Mark Zilinskas said. “We just turned it on. It was exactly what we needed.”
Only an 11-yard touchdown pass from one freshman to another, Josh Bauer to Kerek Hoffman, with 26 seconds left to play, kept the Trojans from being shut out.
“Yeah, the kids didn’t quit,” said Derry coach Al Gaiardo. “I have a great bunch of kids. I love each and every one of them. I feel bad that we haven’t been able to get a win for them yet, but hopefully that will happen this week.”
Indiana was trying to bounce back after losses against two conference heavyweights by a combined score of 69-15. So claiming a 50-point win at home means something for a team that just a few days ago was fighting off a bout of low self-esteem.
“It’s huge,” Mark Zilinskas said. “The highs were high and the lows were low, and they were extra low over the last two weeks. … The kids felt it, the coaches felt it. It’s a tough thing to get through mentally.”
It wasn’t an easy win, by any means. The Trojans moved the ball at will in the first quarter, but they were unable to score. In fact, Indiana led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter despite running only three plays and gaining 8 yards while Derry ran 30 plays and gained 130 yards. It wasn’t until the second half that the Indians really started to pull away.
“We weren’t as sharp as we could have been,” Mark Zilinskas said. “Certainly, they moved the ball on us. We knew they’d be tough if they got some momentum, and that’s what they got. But the good thing is that we made some plays and stayed focused.”
The tone of the game changed in the decisive third quarter, when Indiana scored four touchdowns to turn a 21-0 halftime lead into a mercy-rule induced rout. In addition to Spicher’s second score, West rambled 72 yards for a touchdown and hauled in a screen pass that he turned into a 50-yard touchdown, and Thompson dashed untouched 53 yards on an option run for another score.
“We just didn’t feel real good at halftime,” Mark Zilinskas said. “But I think we fought through that adversity. We weren’t playing as well as we were capable.”
The Trojans were forced to go without their starting quarterback, Kyle Holmes, because of a shoulder injury that kept him from getting much zip on the ball. Backup Trey Freidline was called into action just minutes before the opening kickoff. The sophomore did some good, and some bad, and ended up throwing for 153 yards on 17-for-33 attempts, with three interceptions.
Spicher was the beneficiary of two of those picks when he jumped short routes in the flat that he returned for 33 (first quarter) and 38 yards (third quarter) for touchdowns. Afterward, Spicher wasn’t sure what to make of his big night.
“Just getting one interception is great,” Spicher said, “But getting two? That’s really something special.”
And returning them both for touchdowns? Well, that’s what dreams are made of.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s one of the best feelings.”