If Cody Squiric had his way, he and his Indiana teammates would have boarded the bus and headed to Hollidaysburg on Friday night and played the Tigers as soon as they got there.
He was that excited — and for good reason.
Needing to win their final two games to ensure themselves of a WPIAL Class AAA playoff berth, the Indians got the first half of the job out of the way Friday when they whipped Knoch, 28-7, at Andy Kuzneski Field on Senior Salute Night.
Indiana (3-5 overall, 3-4 conference) can clinch a playoff spot by beating Hollidaysburg (3-5, 3-4) next Friday on the road. The Tigers got trounced by Mars, 69-14, on Friday.
Friday’s win capped an impressive comeback from the season’s low point just a few weeks ago, when the Indians lost back-to-back Greater Allegheny Conference games to Highlands and Greensburg Salem, each by a touchdown. Indiana played better last week in a non-conference loss to undefeated West Mifflin, also by one score.
The slump put the Indians in a do-or-die situation against Knoch, and a win against the Knights was mandatory if the season would last past next weekend.
That’s why for Squiric, one of the Indians’ 19 seniors, the victory was sweet.
“It’s amazing,” the 6-foot, 305-pound lineman said. “I mean, you go from Greensburg Salem, with where we were that night, not at our prime; to West Mifflin, they came in here and we turned it up; to right now, and it’s 180 degrees’ difference from what it was at Greensburg. You can’t ask for much more than that. Twenty-eight to seven. This is the playoffs. The playoffs started tonight.”
And if the Indians play next Friday like they did in this one, coach Mark Zilinskas knows he will have a playoff team on his hands.
“Our kids were real excited and focused all night,” Zilinskas said. “It was time to turn on the switch for battle, and I love the way the kids handled it tonight because now I know they’re ready for next week.”
Quarterback Sean Thompson rushed for a touchdown, as did running backs DeQuan West (14 yards), Ian Scott (41) and Jordan Casses (14) as Indiana gained 265 yards on the ground. The Indians’ defense was also on top of its game, keeping the Knights’ offense wrapped up all night and forcing two turnovers.
Squiric and fellow lineman Darrious Carter keyed the Indiana defense. Carter, a rangy 6-5 defensive end, had one sack and several tackles for loss.
“He’s just a freak of nature,” Zilinskas said of Carter, who has given a verbal commitment to play at Temple University. “That’s why Division I schools are after him.”
But Squiric pointed out he and Carter are just parts of a defense, not the centerpieces.
“It’s 11 guys on the field,” he said. “Not one, not two. All 11 of us.”
The game was tied 7-7 at the start of the third quarter when the Indians broke it open, thanks mostly to the running of West and Scott. West, who had one carry for zero yards in the first half, gained 73 yards on his first three touches of the third quarter, and he capped the opening drive with his touchdown run just 36 seconds into the half.
“We wanted to come out and take it right to them,” Zilinskas said. “A quick score is really what we needed right there to get some momentum in the second half.”
After Jacob Zilinskas intercepted a pass to end a Knoch drive, Scott went around the end on a pitch for a 41-yard touchdown run that essentially put the game out of reach.
It ended up being the kind of performance Zilinskas had been waiting for all season, and one that couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It was us or Knoch tonight,” he said. “We’ve been in many situations in the end of the year with Knoch. They always have scrappy kids and we knew they would fight us until the end, and that’s what we had tonight. The team that had the momentum at the end of the game was going to win the football game, and fortunately, we were that team.”
Truthfully, Indiana had the momentum throughout the game.
There was the second quarter, when Indiana had the ball for only seven plays and didn’t gain a first down, when things seemed a little more balanced, but for the most part, the Indians controlled things against a Knoch team that is still rebuilding after losing almost all the contributors from last year’s playoff team.
Indiana’s resurgence can be attributed to a number of things, and one of the main ones is that the team is as healthy as it’s been all season.
“The injuries started hitting us early on, but then last week we started getting guys back,” said Thompson, who made his return after missing the past game and a half with a broken finger. “So right now, we’re building. We’re playing our best football right now. I think it’s going to carry us for a while, and hopefully we get to the playoffs.”
And to get to the playoffs, the Indians need to do one thing: beat Hollidaysburg.
Squiric is ready to play now.
“Hollidaysburg? We’re coming,” he said. “That’s it.”