His team took a 31-0 beating last week, but Mark Zilinskas isn’t talking to his team about blocking or tackling or making big plays. He’s being more of a therapist than a football coach this week.
In the days since Zilinskas’ Indians took one on the chin from Franklin Regional in what he billed as a game with a playoff atmosphere, the veteran coach said he has been working hard to massage his team’s fragile ego with hopes of getting it ready for this week’s opponent, highly regarded Mars, in a WPIAL Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference game.
“That was the big concern (because) we really do have guys who can make plays,” Zilinskas said. “People were worried. But you get those goofy games that happen now and then when things go wrong. So maybe some guys have some self-doubt, and they need to get through them. Maybe we do have self-esteem issues. So we’ve tried to stay positive all week.”
The Indians opened the season with a feel-good 33-7 win at Hampton that gave the team high hopes for the rest of the season. But those hopes came crashing down last Friday, when first-place Franklin Regional made its presence felt early by taking a 24-0 halftime lead against the stunned Indians.
But Zilinskas said his team has fought back the negativity in the days following their Jekyll-and-Hyde performances against Hampton and Franklin Regional.
“They’ve responded very well,” he said. “It was still a tough loss. We had high expectations going into the game. It had a playoff atmosphere. So after a game like that, particularly when the score differential was so great, it was shocking. Coming off the field, it was like, ‘What just happened?’ People think you’re nuts if you give up 31 points and say you did some things right, but I think we did. Physically, they didn’t jam it down our throats. I thought from the second quarter on, we played good defense. But we just dug ourselves too deep a hole.”
The hope this week against Mars (1-1) is that there won’t be any first-half meltdowns like there was against Franklin Regional. But Zilinskas knows that won’t be easy. The Planets, who lost by seven, 20-13, to Franklin Regional in the opener, boast some of the top talent in the conference, led by quarterback Owen Nearhoof and running back Josh Schultheis.
In Mars’ 64-7 thrashing of Derry last Friday, Nearhoof passed for 143 yards and two scores, and Schul-theis rushed for 222 yards and four touchdowns. Most astonishingly, the Planets outgained Derry 425-14 in the first half and held a 52-0 lead.
“This is going to be a tough game for us,” Zilinskas said. “I look for it to be a battle.”
Zilinskas said he’s anxious to see how his front lines on both sides of the ball match up with Mars’ lines.
“We need to play up front like we’re capable of,” he said. “That will be key for us. This will be a very good battle for us up front.”
The other key is for the Indians to come out with an upbeat attitude seven days after taking a demoralizing loss.
Zilinskas isn’t labeling this game as any other than the next one. He tried that last week, and it ended badly. So this time, he just hopes his team comes out relaxed and focused like it did against Hampton.
“We’ve been looking at this as a learning situation,” Zilinskas said. “We don’t want the kids to get too low about (last week’s loss). It wasn’t the biggest game ever. … So we’ve gone back to fundamentals this week, and I’ll tell you what: I look for us to have a very competitive game against Mars.”