GREENSBURG — The injuries continue to pile up for the Indiana Indians. So do the losses.
More importantly, though, the Indians are dealing with a swollen mountain of frustration.
Despite outgaining Greensburg Salem and winning the turnover battle, the Indians continued the recent theme of making more mistakes than big plays, and they ended up leaving Offutt Field on Friday night with a hard-to-swallow 28-21 loss to a team that had been blown out in its last four games.
“It’s awful,” said senior lineman Cody Squiric. “This is honestly awful.”
The Indians led 14-0 in the second quarter, but the host Lions rallied to score 28 straight points, including three long touchdown runs by Dominique McKinley, and Indiana watched its playoff hopes take a serious hit with the loss.
McKinley finished with 228 yards on 26 carries, the ninth-highest single-game total ever gained against Indiana.
Losing to Greensburg Salem means Indiana will most likely have to beat Knoch and Hollidaysburg in its final two conference games to ensure itself a berth in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs. The Indians (2-4 overall, 2-4 conference) play host to undefeated West Mifflin next Friday in a non-conference matchup.
“Everybody is frustrated right now and angry with what happened,” said Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas. “We just need to get away from this game and move on and decide what we’re going to do with the rest of our season. … Regardless of if we make the playoffs or not, we’ve got three football games left, and we’ve got to treat every one of them as opportunities to come out here and play and make the most of it. … It’s like I just told the guys: We either grow together or fall apart. We’ve got to stick together as a team and move forward.”
That’s something the Indians didn’t do against Greensburg Salem. Instead, the Indians gave away their first-half lead and got pushed around by the Lions, who had dropped their last four games by a combined score of 146-48.
During a crucial game that could have put Indiana in a great position for a playoff spot, the Indians instead got outplayed in every facet of the game.
“The guys didn’t want to hear that, but that’s exactly what happened,” Zilinskas said. “They outplayed us.”
Squiric didn’t need convincing of that.
“They executed better than we did,” he said, nodding toward the scoreboard, “and the score shows it.”
If they wanted to, the Indians could use injuries as an excuse. Every week, another ailing player gets added to the injured list, and Friday, quarterback Sean Thompson became the latest when he broke a finger on his passing hand while playing defense. At some point this season, the Indians have lost at least six other key players: Miles Dietz, Keldon Spicher, Ian Scott, Jordan Casses, Brad Zoka and Malik Materko.
With Thompson unable to pass the ball, the Indians turned to sophomore Jake Zilinskas. Although the coach’s son did pass for 146 yards and a touchdown in two quarters of play, the road ahead will be difficult — for a large portion of the team.
“He hasn’t gotten near the reps that Sean has, so it’s difficult putting a guy in that situation,” Mark Zilinskas said. “We don’t have a lot of subs in certain positions right now, and we’ve got a lot of our key guys standing on the sideline right now. We’ve got to get better.”
The Indians’ troubles against Greensburg Salem were mostly on defense.
McKinley, who rushed for 87 yards in the first half, took over the game after the break and rambled for three touchdowns that took the Lions from trailing by seven points to leading by 14 with eight minutes left to play. McKinley didn’t do his damage with trickery. No, he just ran right at the heart of the Indiana defense and churned his way to 141 yards in the second half.
“We could not stop the running game,” Zilinskas said. “They ran two plays. They ran the trap and they were gashing us for 6- to 12-yards per play and they were running their counter power for another 6 to 12. They just kept moving the sticks and were grinding it out.”
Despite that, the Indians did have a last-gasp chance to tie the game.
After Riley Stapleton, who caught eight passes for 149 yards, hauled in an 8-yard touchdown catch with four minutes remaining, Zilinskas called for an onside kick because he was afraid his team wouldn’t get the ball back if it kicked it away.
The bouncing ball traveled near the required 10 yards before an Indiana player pounced on it, but the officials ruled it did not travel far enough, and the Lions were awarded possession. From there, they ran out the clock and celebrated their win.
“We were running out of time and I didn’t want to give them a long field and have them eat up the clock, so we took a gamble,” Zilinskas said. “The ball traveled 10 yards and nobody touched it, but (the referee) said one of our guys touched it. We’ll look at the video, but it’s a shame that happened.”
Zilinskas didn’t blame the officiating for the loss, though.
“I’m not saying that play determined the outcome because I saw about 30 plays where they jammed it up the gut and we weren’t able to top it,” he said.
It all added up to a frustrating and painful night for the Indians, who face the tough task of regrouping mentally while also trying to physically get better for the stretch run.
Squiric, who has been playing varsity ball since he was a freshman, said the team needs to fix its problems itself.
“We’ve got to learn to come together as a team, 100 percent,” Squiric said. “I’m tired of losing. We’ve got to get it together. … Somehow, some way, things have got to turn around for this team. We’ve got to stick together throughout the game. We’ve got to learn to stick together and not yell at each other and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played — together.”