HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Despite losses, Indiana remains in playoff hunt
His team has lost three games in a row, yet you’d have a hard time convincing Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas that things aren’t going well.
It’s all about the big picture, really.
His team is coming off a 21-14 loss to West Mifflin last Friday, and that loss followed two other one-touchdown setbacks, to Highlands (21-14) on Sept. 27 and Greensburg Salem (28-21) on Oct. 4.
And now the Indians are getting ready to play host to Knoch on Friday in a key WPIAL Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference game, and they could easily be 5-2 instead of 2-5, if a few bounces had gone their way in the past three weeks.
That’s especially true of last week’s loss to West Mifflin (7-0), which entered the game as the No. 9 team in the state in Class AAA, and left it feeling dazed and lucky to have survived.
“If you look at last Friday night, a lot of what we did is encouraging,” said Zilinskas. “There are a lot of things there to build off of. We’re disappointed that we didn’t win, but we just weren’t able to close the deal. We were able to take our game up several levels, and that’s why we walked away encouraged.”
And as odd as it might sound for a team that hasn’t won a game in almost a month, the Indians are walking with a bit of a swagger right now, Zilinskas said.
“We had a great practice Monday and a great practice Tuesday,” he said. “Things have started clicking. I think the kids are encouraged. We’re cautious about being overconfident, though. We didn’t win last week, but we played well enough to, and the kids have been able to keep it in perspective. But right now, we’re getting to the point where a lot of players are developing and we’re starting to catch our stride.”
That might not be good news for Knoch, which went 7-3 last year and went to the playoffs. This season, the Knights are rebuilding with a host of new starters, and they are tied with the Indians for sixth place in the GAC with a 2-4 mark in conference play. And although this isn’t your typical Knoch team, Zilinskas knows this won’t be an easy game — not by far.
“Yeah, maybe they’re not the team they were last year,” he said, “and they don’t have the big-play guys like they used to have. But as always, they’ll have a group of tough, scrappy kids who will give us a fight.”
And as far as the big picture goes, Zilinskas isn’t afraid to say the word “playoffs” around his team. The simple truth is that Indiana, despite being 2-5, is in good position to make it to the WPIAL playoffs. The top five teams in the conference move on after the regular season, and if the Indians beat Knoch (3-4) on Friday and then win at Hollidaysburg (3-4) next Friday, they are assured of a finish no worse than fourth in the conference.
And should the Indians get some help, they could wake up Saturday all alone in fourth place, providing they beat Knoch, Mars (6-1) beats Hollidaysburg (3-4) and Franklin Regional (6-1) beats Hampton (4-3).
“I think it’s important for the kids to know the importance of this game,” Zilinskas said. “We had a great opportunity slip by us at Greensburg, and another one against Highlands. The kids know that with two more wins, we’re in good position.
“Everybody has a chance, but the way it works out is that if we win, there’s nobody who can tie us. A 4-4 conference record will lock it up for us. The kids are well aware of all of that.”