McKEESPORT — The Indiana football team has been hit hard this year by injuries. Those injuries along with a youthful squad sometimes makes it hard to put a strong performance together. The Indians found this out again on Saturday.
The McKeesport defense held the Indians to just one first down and only 38 yards of total offense in beating Indiana, 50-0, Saturday afternoon in a WPIAL non-conference game at George L. Smith Field. The defense also forced two turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.
“We have a lot of injuries and a lot of youth at our skill positions,” said Indiana coach Brandon Overdorff. “We’re just not there yet. McKeesport is a really good team and they just kind of reload every year. They have speed at all their skill positions and we can’t match their speed. That just kind of wore us down.”
Those injuries and youth were hampered even more so by quarterback Fox Van Leer fighting the flu this past week. He normally plays both ways for Indiana but was limited to only taking snaps on offense on this day, which led to him taking a lot of hits from the Tigers defense. Van Leer managed just 19 rushing yards and 6 passing yards.
“He’s a tough kid, he’s done that all year long,” said Overdorff. “He’s been defined by his toughness. He’ll be the first one to tell you he’s got a lot of stuff to fix. He’s got to take care of the ball better, make better reads and get in the weight room in the offseason.”
McKeesport (5-2) and Indiana (1-6) have similar offensive strategies, which is just perfect for Tigers coach Matt Miller.
“I thought we did a great job on the defensive side. We put a lot of emphasis on defense,” said Miller. “It’s more fun, it’s the old-school way of playing football. A lot of fun, for me the coach, we are able to focus on one thing. We were able to make them a little more one-dimensional and ultimately made it a little easier for us.”
McKeesport took the opening kickoff and marched the ball right down the field. A seven-play drive was capped by an Asaad Robinson 5-yard touchdown and the Tigers led 7-0.
Both teams went three-and-out on their next possessions. However, the game took a big turn on Indiana’s next possession. After another three-and-out, Indians punter Brock Miller could not handle a low snap and was tackled at his own 10-yard line. Five plays later, Devari Robinson scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. Robinson then found Deamontae Diggs for a two-point conversion and it was not 15-0 in favor of the hosts, which is how the first quarter ended.
Indiana achieved its first, and only, first down on the next possession. After failing to continue the possession, the Indians punt was returned 62 yards for a touchdown by Devari Robinson. Indiana got the ball again, only for Van Leer to throw an interception to McKeesport’s Tyron Wagner, who in turn ran it back for a 22-yard touchdown. In a couple plays, it was 30-0 with still 8:08 to go in the second quarter.
“We did play pretty well at times but we made too many mistakes,” said Overdorff. “That seems to be our problem this year. There’s just too many self-inflicted wounds. That’s going to happen when you’re as young as we are and as beat up as we are.”
A couple of those times came on defense when Indiana defensive back Ryan Putt prevented a couple touchdown passes to Diggs. Putt got his hands on the ball both times to break up potential Tiger scores.
“Both catches would have been great catches,” said Miller. “Right now you say, oh he should have had it. But both of them were defended well. I like where the ball was placed, but we just couldn’t get a reception.”
The Indians defense also forced a second-quarter fumble, which was recovered by Gavin Bernard. However, the Indians were once again stifled by the McKeesport defense. Then on fourth-and-1, Devari Robinson struck again, this time a 29-yard run down the sideline for a 37-0 halftime advantage.
Asaad Robinson (41 yards) and Caleb Reist (1 yard) tacked on second-half touchdowns with the running clock.
McKeesport stays out of conference next week at Kiski Area while Indiana has its homecoming game against Blackhawk.
“We’ve just got to hope to get healthy and get a couple guys back,” said Overdorff. “Even if we don’t we have got to get better. That is the answer to everything, go get better. and that’s what we’re going to do.”