SHALER TWP — Mars found itself in a tussle and was looking for a play.
Drew Schlegel provided it.
With the Planets clinging to a two-point lead, the junior defensive back intercepted a Darin Mizgorski pass early in the fourth quarter and returned it 51 yards to the Shaler 4-yard line. Garrett Reinke scored on a 1-yard run moments later and Mars went on to a 21-12 Northern Conference football victory Saturday afternoon.
“Big play ... huge play,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “We needed somebody to make something happen for us and that play did it.
“It was a game-changer. It changed the momentum in this game.”
Shaler (2-4, 1-2) had a second down near midfield at the time, trailing only 14-12.
“That was certainly one of the key plays on the day, but it didn't decide the game,” Shaler coach Jim Ryan said. “We didn't finish off enough possessions.
“I'm not sure what our quarterback was looking at on that play or what his decision process was. Our receiver may have been knocked off his pattern ... I'm not sure at this point.”
The Planets (5-1, 2-1) trailed 12-7 at the half. Shaler took the opening kickoff and marched 79 yards in 12 plays. Joe Kremer — who had 21 carries for 92 yards on the day — scored on a 7-yard run. The PAT was blocked.
Mars answered with a 10-play, 80-yard march that ended with a two-yard TD run by Reinke, who had 25 carries for 160 yards and two TDs Saturday.
But Shaler scored its second touchdown in as many possessions when Mizgorski hit Joe Impavido with a 29-yard touchdown pass with 8:01 left in the half.
“They were playing more physical than we were in the first half,” Mars defensive lineman Mitchell Wright said. “When we came back out (for the second half), we matched their physicality and we were OK.”
Still, a 14-play Mars drive to begin the third quarter went awry when Blake Edwards' 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. The drive ate 7:05 off the clock.
The Planets grabbed the lead less than three minutes later when Tyler Kowalkowski found Andrew Recchia alone in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown strike.
Then came Schlegel's interception.
“We made some adjustments defensively at halftime,” Heinauer said. “Basically, though, we just had to play harder.
“We knew it wasn't going to be easy coming down here. Yeah, playing in the afternoon disrupts our routine a little bit, but they (Titans) don't play any other Saturday games, either. There are no excuses.”
Trailing by nine late in the fourth quarter, Shaler nearly got back in the game. The 10th play of the Titans' final possession gave Shaler a third-and-one from the Mars 2.
Kremer was hit by Wright and Ben Chizmar for a yard loss. On fourth down, Mizgorski rolled to his left and was tackled by Wright for a three-yard loss. The Planets took possession with 3:35 left and ran out the clock.
“Just dig in and keep them out,” Wright said of the defensive plays inside the 5. “If we stop them there, we knew the game was over.
“We got things together and got the W. This is big for us.”
Mars churned out 22 first downs in the contest. Shaler had 15.
Mars returns home Friday night to host North Hills in Northern Conference play.
Mars 7 0 7 7 — 21
Shaler 6 6 0 0 — 12
S — Joe Kremer 7 run (kick blocked), 6:22
M — Garrett Reinke 2 run (Blake Edwards kick), :42
S — Joe Impavido 29 pass from DarinMizgorski (run failed), 8:01
M — Andrew Recchia 27 pass from Tyler Kowalkowski (Edwards kick), 2:09
M — Reinke 1 run (Edwards kick), 10:32
Rushing: Mars, Tyler Kowalkowski 5-(-3), Garrett Reinke 25-160, Teddy Ruffner 5-32, Drew Schlegel 7-82. Shaler, Darin Mizgorski 10-42, Joe Kremer 21-92, Brennan Fugh 3-15, Jake Miller 4-17.
Passing: Mars, Tyler Kowalkowski 6-13-94-1. Shaler, Darin Mizgorski 10-20-110-1.
Receiving: Mars, Drew Schlegel 1-19, Mitchell Wright 2-32, Tom Sheehy 1-9, Teddy Ruffner 1-7, Andrew Recchia 1-27. Shaler, Brennan Fugh 6-68, Justin DeSabato 1-7, Joe Impavido 3-35.