At least this time, Indiana was home.
Not much else has changed.
The Indians have logged many unnecessary miles this season just to play out the same narrative — Indiana isn’t equipped to compete in the WPIAL’s Big Eight Conference. And if Friday night was any indication, the Indians are simply outmatched in Class 4A football as a whole, regardless of the venue.
Facing off against a perennial league playoff threat for the fourth time in five weeks against former conference foe Blackhawk, Indiana gave way to a 42-point first-half barrage that culminated in a 42-14 defeat. The second half featured a running clock for the sixth time in 2019, courtesy of the 35-point mercy rule, though just the second time at Andy Kuzneski Field.
So at least Indiana had homecoming to celebrate, even if it won’t result in a rise in numbers, a clean bill of health or a level playing field.
“This is tough on everybody, being in the situation that we’re in,” Indiana second-year coach Brandon Overdorff said. “We’re just outmanned. They’re faster, bigger, stronger than us right now. They’re a really good program, Blackhawk. They’ve done the right things in the weight room in the offseason and they have a lot of God-given talent, and we’re struggling to find that right now.
“We have a lot of guys on the sideline that could help us that aren’t playing because of injuries. We’re just in a tough situation and we’re trying to build a program, basically, that is really down. I’m not going to lie. You have to build some confidence, and that’s tough to do when you’re in this situation, so I feel bad for the kids. They’re just a little outmatched right now.”
Indiana (1-7, 1-4 conference) will have its last best chance to build momentum ahead of next season when the Indians play host to Laurel Highlands (1-7, 1-4) in their home finale next Friday.
The Mustangs are the only team in the two-league Class 4A that allows more points than the Indians, at 47.1 per game to 43.6.
Each team’s lone victory came against winless Ringgold, although Indiana will look to recapture a spark against the Mustangs after nearly sneaking into the postseason with a 41-7 victory over Laurel Highlands last October.
The Indians will conclude their season on Oct. 25 with a trip to Greensburg Salem (4-4, 4-1), which denied Indiana a playoff berth in 2019 regular-season finale in what was essentially a play-in game for the fourth and final spot out of the conference.
But steady improvement will remain priority No. 1 for a team forced to start multiple underclassmen due to injuries, including sophomore quarterback Fox Van Leer and running backs Zach Herrington and Josiah Johnson.
With leading rusher Devin Flint, a sophomore, now sidelined, senior Justin Raible returned to full-time duty at fullback after battling injury for most of the season.
“We want to finish strong,” Overdoff said. “I mean, we’re basically a (junior varsity) team. Let’s be honest. There’s not very many seniors other than Justin. Guys were banged up.
“Maybe we can get in a competitive football game and have a chance. You never know. We go into every game thinking we can win, so we want to compete. We just have to get better.”
Raible, who had six tackles from his inside linebacker position, was chosen as the Scott Zellem MVP Award winner, an honor given at every homecoming game.
Blackhawk (5-3) beat the Indians in all three phases to build a 42-0 halftime lead. The Cougars threw for a pair of touchdowns, rushed for two touchdowns, returned an interception 20 yards for a score and returned a punt 40 yards to the end zone.
Compounding Indiana’s record pace for giveaways, the Indians lost two of their five fumbles Friday, increasing their total to 19 lost fumbles through eight games.
Indiana appeared to break from the locker room for one of its best plays of the season when senior Ryan Putt raced down the left sideline for a would-be 85-yard touchdown on the second-half kickoff. But a holding penalty on the play negated the score, and Indiana punted four plays later.
“It was a great play by Ryan,” Overdorff said. “It kind of sparked us and it was nice to see that coming out of halftime. It was big for him, but unfortunate. It seems like every time we do something positive this year— which is few and far between — we get a flag. It’s just one of those years.
“So you just have to try to stay positive, but at the same time, you have to try to challenge them a little bit to step their game up. I wasn’t happy with our effort in the first half. We’re still just kind of timid on offense and making too many mistakes. We just have to cut it loose at some point and man up and play with some confidence, and it’s tough to do that coming off the murderer’s row schedule that we’ve had.”
Indiana avoided its second straight shutout and fourth overall on the next possession when Herrington rushed for a 5-yard touchdown. Van Leer added a 1-yard touchdown to forge the final score.