WPIAL Class AAA playoffs: Trinity at Indiana
Posted Friday, October 31, 2008 by Ed Dalton
WPIAL Class AAA playoffs: Trinity at Indiana
A month ago, neither Indiana nor Trinity was playing playoff-caliber football.
Each team was struggling following midseason losses to sub-par teams that had them questioning whether the playoffs were a possibility or a pipe dream.
So it's somewhat fitting, and a bit amazing, that the two teams have righted their ships and find themselves cruising along into one another. The Hillers and Indians meet Friday night in a first-round WPIAL Class AAA playoff game at Indiana's Fifth Street Stadium.
On Oct. 3, Indiana lost to Hampton (which finished the season with one win), and Trinity was beaten by Belle Vernon (which won only three games). Indiana and Trinity then won three consecutive games to clinch postseason berths.
The Hillers won their final two games by a total of 10 points to earn the No. 3 seed from the Big Seven Conference.
``Our philosophy after that game was we made this mess, and we have to fix it,'' said Trinity coach Ed Dalton. ``The reason it is the way it is is because we did it. Fortunately, we were able to fix it.''
The Indians rallied to beat Knoch, Mars and Franklin Regional in succession by a combined score of 96-37, and they earned a No. 2 seed out of the Greater Allegheny Conference.
``I keep going back to the Hampton game,'' Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas said, referring to the 7-6 loss. ``We've gotten a lot better since then. I think we demonstrated that the last few weeks.''
In fact, Indiana's win streak has given the program 399 wins since it began playing football in 1910, and a win over Trinity would be a nice way to earn No. 400.
The teams have taken similar paths to the playoffs, but that's where the similarities appear to end.
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The Indians feature an explosive offense that averages 26 points and 306 yards per game and a stifling defense that has allowed only two touchdowns in its last 10 quarters. When the Indians have been beaten, it's because of too many self-inflicted wounds.
Trinity has struggled to score points because of injuries, and its defense has had to carry a young team that features 25 juniors. The fact the Hillers are even in the playoffs is a surprise to their coach.
``We've only got 12 or 13 seniors,'' he said. ``This is kind of a `tweener' year because these kids have high expectations, but they don't have much experience.''
Needless to say, Dalton, the former coach at Purchase Line from 1987 to 1991, said his team has a tough task if it hopes to advance past the second round.
``We have to go into the game thinking we have to play good defense and good special teams,'' he said. ``We have to manufacture some points.''
Zilinskas is pinning his team's hopes on a continuation of what got the Indians to the playoffs - ball-control offense and a run-stuffing defense. But he knows the playoffs are a whole new season.
``You're only as good as your last win,'' he said, noting Indiana beat playoff-bound Franklin Regional, 41-17, last Friday. ``You can't get to the point where you think things will keep going like this. You're going to get a little bit better if you put a little effort into it. That's why every day is important.
``That can also work in reverse. Things can quickly go in other direction.''
Zilinskas will certainly be happy if his defense can play this week at the level it has the last month. Working in the Indians favor is the fact the Hillers are down to their No. 3 and No. 4 tailbacks because starter Dan Miller (knee) and top backup Chris Dames (shoulder) suffered season-ending injuries earlier this year.
Trinity will line up in a Power-I formation, and it has the size up front to make things difficult for a smallish Indiana defensive line. But Zilinskas likes the way his team has played against bigger teams this year.
``There's nothing complicated about it,'' he said. ``What we have to focus on is our guys up front have to play big. We're giving up some size there. We're playing with guys who aren't that big. We can mix up a few different looks, but we have to play good technique football and use our speed. That's an advantage we have over these guys.''
Should Trinity struggle to run the ball, Indiana fans will see a different Hillers team than they saw the last few times the teams played, when Trinity gained large chunks of yardage on the ground rather easily.
``In the other times (Indiana) played us,'' Dalton said, ``we were blessed with such unbelievable backs. Our style of play was pretty predictable. But with this group, we have to come up with creative ways to score a point.''
Indiana has had no such trouble this year. The Indians have a variety of skilled complementary parts, but quarterback Ben Fiscus (1,431 yards of total offense, 15 rushing touchdowns) is what makes the engine go. Dalton said Fiscus is as good a quarterback the Hillers have seen all year.
``Yeah, he's quite a player,'' Dalton said. ``He just flawlessly runs their offense.''
Zilinskas made it a point this week not to let his players think too far down the road. But a win over Trinity would match up the Indians against either Franklin Regional or New Castle in the second round, and Indiana already beat both this year.
What Zilinskas wants is to instill enough fear into his team that the players know a second-round game won't happen unless they win the first-round game.
``I wanted to emphasize on the (chalk) board that you can't not mention what's to come afterward,'' he said. ``They see the bracket and they see what's ahead. But nothing is a given. There's going to be upsets. Just because of your seed, you're not guaranteed a win. If you lose, you're done.''
And that's something the Indians certainly don't want to happen.
``Eight teams will go through big disappointment on Friday,'' Zilinskas said, ``and eight will feel really good. I think these kids realize that opportunity; we've gone back and made the Hampton loss a positive.''
NOTES: Fiscus needs 111 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season, making him the third player in school history to reach that mark. ... Indiana's last visit to the postseason, in 2003, ended with a 44-13 loss to Upper St. Clair in the Class AAAA playoffs. ... This is the fourth consecutive year Trinity has reached the playoffs. The Hillers lost in the first round in 2006 and in the second round in 2005 and 2007. ... Trinity was a Class AAAA school until 2006. ... Indiana has intercepted 15 passes in nine games this year.
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