MARS — For a few moments on Friday the 13th, Indiana threw a scare into Mars.
Then the host Planets put up a fight, and the result ended up being a horror show for the Indians.
After leading by just seven points at halftime, the Planets awoke from their daze and used a three-touchdown outburst to roll past Indiana, 38-15, in a WPIAL Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference football game.
“That just killed us,” Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas said of the Planets’ 21-point third quarter. “It’s a matter of sustaining our focus. We gave up a couple big plays and couldn’t come up with ones of our own.”
Zilinskas and the Indians thought they had a chance to pull off the upset, but Mars pushed those thoughts aside with a brutal ground game and a defense that wouldn’t budge.
Indiana couldn’t stop Mars running back Josh Schultheis, who rushed for a game-high 211 yards and three touchdowns. It was Schultheis’ second consecutive game with 200-plus rushing yards.
The Mars defense was just as impressive because it limited Indiana’s big-play offense to small gains and few sustained drives.
“You’ve got to hand it to Mars,” Zilinskas said. “They did what they had to do to win the football game, and they won it handily.”
Indiana senior Ian Scott, who had a stellar game with 77 rushing yards, a touchdown, an extra point and an interception, took a simplistic approach to explaining what went wrong.
“I don’t know (what to say). The scoreboard didn’t go our way tonight,” he said.
Mars coach Scott Heinauer understood the importance of a good third quarter when his team entered halftime ahead just 14-7 against an Indiana team that managed to do little right a week ago in a 31-0 loss to Franklin Regional.
“That was important,” Heinauer said. “We knew we needed to stop them. And then we scored and we put them where we wanted them.”
The 21-point outburst in the third quarter was a change from the first half, when the Planets managed to stay ahead mainly because of Indiana mistakes. The Indians had five first-half possessions: two ended with turnovers on downs inside the red zone, one with a touchdown, another with a punt and one with an interception at the goal line.
Nonetheless, the Indians were in the ball game, which was probably shocking to the Planets.
“I don’t think they expected us to come out as physically as we did,” said Zilinskas, who fell to 2-4 in six career games against Mars. “We came out and punched them in the face, (and) unfortunately we had them close to the mat but we couldn’t finish them off. … We were excited to come out for the second half, but we fizzled on offense and they popped some big plays, and that was it right there. They seized all the momentum.”
Indiana outgained the Planets 190-172 in the first half but couldn’t capitalize on its chances, a fact Zilinskas lamented.
“When you have opportunities against a team like this, you have to take them,” he said. “You can’t let them off their heels, and that’s what we did.”
While Mars scored touchdowns on its three possessions in the third quarter, the Indians did little with the ball: They ran 13 plays and gained 48 yards and only momentarily crossed midfield.
“They’re a good team,” Zilinskas said. “You can’t just keep going out there and going three-and-out and putting your defense back on the field. I know we did a lot of good things tonight, and that’s a good thing compared to what we did last week. But we’ve got to keep building on what we learned tonight.”
A big part of the problem came when Indiana quarterback Sean Thompson dropped back to pass. The senior had little time to throw, with Mars’ Marshall Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 350-pound nose guard, proving to be too much for the Indiana line to handle.
“It was tough,” Zilinskas said. “That’s one of the problems when you get down and the other team knows you’re going to throw. They just come after you. We didn’t do a good enough job of picking it up and we out ourselves in a hole. The solution to that is to not be in a position where you have to throw the ball and they know you’re going to throw the ball.”
Mars added to its lead in the fourth quarter with Matthew White’s 28-yard field goal that put the Planets up 38-7.
With the game decided, Zilinskas turned to his son, Jacob, to replace Thompson at quarterback. The sophomore managed to lead the Indians to a touchdown, on an 11-yard pass to Noah Mohney, but by then the game was out of reach.
The Indians will get back to work next week with hopes of gaining some self-confidence against a struggling Derry team on Friday at Andy Kuzneski Field. The Trojans are 0-3 and have been outscored 174-14 thus far.
“We’ve got five more conference games left, and there’s a lot of football left to be played,” Zilinskas said. “The teams that get to the playoffs are the ones that are playing the best at the end of the season, and we’ve got to scratch and claw to have an opportunity to get to the postseason.”
For Scott, that means one thing.
“We’ve got to get better,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to get better.”