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Despite Week 2 loss, Armstrong football gains confidence in Greater Allegheny

| Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, 8:57 p.m.
Armstrong River Hawks' Dawson Porter (11) scrambles into open field and runs for a River Hawks touchdown in the first half against Holidaysburg Friday, Sept. 4, 2015
Louis B. Ruediger | Total Trib Media
Armstrong River Hawks' Dawson Porter (11) scrambles into open field and runs for a River Hawks touchdown in the first half against Holidaysburg Friday, Sept. 4, 2015

In Armstrong's first test against a top-tier WPIAL Class AAA team, coach Frank Fabian believes his River Hawks passed — sort of.

Even though they dropped a 31-27 decision to Mars in their first road game, Armstrong's players raised some eyebrows around the Greater Allegheny Conference with their performance.

“I think, up until that point, we were still wondering how we stacked up against the top teams in Triple-A. Coming out of that game, we feel like we belong and we can compete,” Fabian said. “Typically, Mars is one of the best in Triple-A and to go toe-to-toe with them is a confidence booster. We are still disappointed we didn't finish off that win, but we took a good, long look at the tape and made corrections. We hope to get in that situation again and finish it next time.”

The River Hawks (1-1, 1-1) may get that chance when they welcome Indiana (0-2, 0-2) for another conference clash Friday. The Little Indians dropped a 35-6 decision to Mars to open the year and saw a 26-13 lead evaporate in the fourth quarter in last week's 33-27 setback to Hampton.

“We knew that going into the year the conference has been tough year in and year out, and it just seems anything can happen. It was really disappointing late in the game — we got stopped at the 1 and gave up two scores in the last two minutes. It was crazy the way it ended,” Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas said. “We have a lot of positives to build on, but it's a long season. Certainly, being 0-2 puts our backs against the wall.”

Even though the Little Indians are 0-2, Fabian is aware of the team's capabilities, especially with quarterback Jacob Zilinskas and wide receiver Dylan Stapleton. They connected for three touchdowns last week.

“They are a very talented team. As bad as we felt about the Mars game, they felt equally as bad or worse about their Hampton game,” Fabian said. “Zilinskas is the first guy that jumps out when you look at their team. He can make all the throws, and he's been through it all. Stapleton and (Ryan Hoff) are very scary receivers. They have very good skills. When you turn on the tape, you do not see an 0-2 team. We see a very talented team.”

The River Hawks hope to throw off Jacob Zilinskas, a four-year starter and all-conference quarterback.

“We have to work on giving him different looks. When you're playing a good quarterback, you can't sit back in one thing because he'll pick you apart,” Fabian said. “We've put the emphasis this week on giving multiple looks and trying to confuse him as much as we can. It'll be hard to do because I am sure he has seen just about all of it in his career. It'll definitely be a tough test.”

Armstrong's Zane Dudek continued his torrid start last week. After rushing for 309 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1, he followed it up with 181 yards and two touchdowns. He added two kickoff return touchdowns of more than 90 yards, as well.

“He has emerged as one of the better backs from what I have seen. He is a player,” Mark Zilinskas said. “He is going to be a handful on Friday night.”

Fabian lauded the play of the guys paving the way for Dudek — offensive linemen Joel Tack, Kyle Bowser, Levi Weitzel, Jacob Robb and Kayne Quinn.

“Anytime Zane touches the ball, he is proving he has a chance to go the distance,” Fabian said. “Our offensive line is coming along; it is a work in progress. We are starting to see them improve. We like what we're getting out of them.

“Last week, I was really happy with our defensive line. Jacob Robb at defensive end had a monster game. We liked our aggressiveness last week. We played about 45 minutes of good football and we needed 48, though,” he continued. “We have to minimize big plays. Indiana has the kids that can make big, explosive plays. We have to finish drives on offense. I liked the way we moved the ball against Mars, but we came up short a couple times when we did drive. When we get inside the 20, we need points, and we came away twice without points. That proved to be the difference.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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