ADAMS TWP — Mired in a 7-all tie at halftime, Mars' football team aimed to become more efficient on offense in the second half.
Did it ever.
The Planets scored four touchdowns in a span of less than eight minutes in the third quarter and handed North Hills its first Northern Conference loss of the season, 42-14.
“North Hills was unbelievable defensively in the first half,” said Planet coach Scott Heinauer. “They were aggressive and flying to the ball, but we weren't staying on our blocks. We told the guys to go out, score and put North Hills behind the 8-ball.”
Heinauer saw that request fulfilled early in the third quarter.
The Planets (6-1, 3-1) needed just five plays to break the tie as wingback Teddy Ruffner scored his second touchdown of the game on a 41-yard scamper. Blake Edwards' extra point gave the Planets a 14-7 lead with just 2:32 gone in the second half.
The teams then exchanged punts, but North Hills muffed the Planet boot and Kevin Ceh recovered for the Planets at the Indians' 43.
A 25-yard pass from Tyler Kowalkowski to Andrew Recchia set up Drew Schlegel's 18-yard scoring run.
North Hills struggled to throw the ball nearly the entire game. Starting quarterback Maxwell Sharp, a sophomore, completed just three passes for 12 yards on the night.
Having senior Tyler Brennan in street clothes did not help matters. He has rushed for over 500 yards and 13 touchdowns this season and was hoping to return from injury, but did not play.
One brief reprieve came when the Indians (4-3, 3-1) used a bit of trickery to pull within seven points midway through the third period.
Sharp threw a lateral to the outside to Luke Hulbert, who then launched a bomb to a wide-open Keygen Bryant. Mars' defense was fooled on the play and Bryant scored easily to cut Mars' lead to 21-14.
“We've struggled in the passing game all season,” said North Hills coach Pat Carey. “We have some guys injured. Every team is dealing with that at this point in the season, but we have a lot of guys on the shelf.”
Getting back in the game proved a mirage for the Indians as Mars scored twice on its next three offensive plays — a 92-yard run from senior fullback Garrett Reinke and a 54-yard pass from Kowalkowski to Tom Sheehy.
Reinke's run came after the Planets were pinned deep following a penalty on a kickoff return.
“That's my longest varsity run,” said Reinke, who took the handoff on a draw, cut to the left sideline and was gone. “I got a block, I think from Mitchell Wright. It allowed me to get to the corner and I knew I was going to score.”
Reinke rushed for 207 yards on 19 carries.
“At halftime, we talked about the seniors, the leaders stepping up and making plays,” he said.
This time, North Hills had no answer. The Indians gained a combined 21 yards in their final three drives of the game.
“I think North Hills got tired in the second half and that was a factor,” said Heinauer.
“Mars was smart,” said Carey. “They gave the ball to (Reinke) in the second half and he took over the game.”
The Indians' lone lead of the game came midway through the first quarter when halfback Curtis Foskey followed up his 40-yard run with a score from one yard out.
Mars tied the game shortly before halftime on Ruffner's 1-yard plunge.
The Planets travel to Fox Chapel next Friday.
North Hills 7 0 7 0 — 14
Mars 0 7 28 7 — 42
NH — Curtis Foskey 1 run (Dan Wagner kick), 5:04
M — Teddy Ruffner 1 run (Blake Edwards kick), 1:03
M — Ruffner 41 run (Edwards kick), 9:28
M — Drew Schlegel 18 run (Edwards kick) 5:23
NH — Keygen Bryant 74 pass from Luke Hulbert (Wagner kick), 5:03
M — Garrett Reinke 92 run (Edwards kick), 3:41
M — Tom Sheehy 54 pass from Tyler Kowalkowski (Edwards kick), 1:54
M — Reinke 1 run (Edwards kick), 7:57
Rushing:North Hills, Keygen Bryant 3-0, Tyler Tomasic 13-51, Curtis Foskey 11-90, Damon Thompson 1-0, James Hollinger 1-(-2), Maxwell Sharp 1-(-1). Mars, Garrett Reinke 19-207, Tyler Kowalkowski 3-11, Drew Schlegel 6-41, Teddy Ruffner 7-57, Evan Thompson 2-3, Joey Tepke 2-10, Nicholas Ferro 3-31.
Passing:North Hills, Maxwell Sharp 3-7-12-0, Luke Hulbert 1-1-74-0, Tyler Tomasic 0-1-0-0. Mars, Tyler Kowalkowski 6-13-157-1.
Receiving: North Hills, Tyler Tomasic 1-(-3), Keygen Bryant 3-89. Mars, Garrett Reinke 1-32, Drew Schlegel 3-46, Andrew Recchia 1-25, Tom Sheehy 1-54.