PENN HILLS — Germar Howard rendered all the risk taking of Mars' football team moot.
Things were starting to turn in the Planets' direction Friday night at the Bill Fralic Athletic Center before the 6-foot, 180-pound senior running back took a handoff from Eddie McKissick.
With less than 5 minutes remaining, Howard glided through the center of the line and raced untouched for a 78-yard touchdown run to give Penn Hills a 14-7 Northern Conference victory.
Howard's run was so devastating because each team struggled to finish drives.
“It was extremely tough,” said Planets defender Mitchell Wright. “The momentum was switching back-and-forth all game.”
Moments before Penn Hills (3-1, 2-0) went ahead for good, Mars appeared to be putting things together. Wright dragged down McKissick for a 4-yard loss on fourth-and-goal play from the Mars 1-yard line to get the Planets the ball back.
“I thought they were going to run the ball off tackle, that's what I told the kids,” Planets coach Scott Heinauer said. “I told our kids where they were going to run the ball. The timeout worked, I think the only change they made was they ran off right tackle instead of left.”
Then Mars converted a fourth-and-one on its own 14 with a 1-yard run by Quinn Fuller. When the drive stalled, Drew Schlegel booted a 59-yard punt to flip field position.
After Howard's score, Mars' final two drives ended with interceptions. In total, the Planets gave the ball away six times, including on their first three possessions to start the second half.
“We normally don't do that,” Heinauer said. “You can't have (five) turnovers in the second half.”
Mars executed its gameplan effectively in the first half. The Planets had two drives which lasted more than seven minutes. While the first drive ended with a fumble, the second put Mars ahead.
Wright hauled in a 15-yard score from Quinn Fuller with 3:45 left before half to cap 12-play drive.
Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said it took the Indians time to catch up with Mars' misdirection.
“We were a step slow early on because our scout team wasn't able to replicate the speed and that offense,” LeDonne said. “We didn't have the ball that much in the first half. Part of the game is getting the ball in our guys' hands.
“When we don't have the ball, that is taken away. We needed our defense to make plays.”
The Indians would make adjustments and end up outgaining Mars 297-154. Howard led the Penn Hills with 122 yards rushing on 11 carries. Teddy Ruffner led the Planets with 105 yards on 32 carries.
On the first drive after halftime, Dontae Pollard intercepted Quinn Fuller to set the Indians up at the Mars' 39-yard line.
Four plays later, Howard scored on an 18-yard run to tie the game.
While the Planets would struggle with turnovers, the defense was able to keep Penn Hills out of the endzone until late in the game.
Wright said Mars hopes to carry over the same effort as it navigates through the rest of conference play.
“It proves to us we have to go out and fight like dogs for the rest of the season,” Wright said.
Mars (2-2, 0-1) travels to Armstrong Friday.
Mars 0 7 0 0 — 7
Penn Hills 0 0 7 7 — 14
M — Mitchell Wright 14 pass from Quinn F uller (Blake Edwards kick), 3:45
PH — Germar Howard 18 run (Jonah Silverman kick), 9:01
PH — Howard 78 run (Silverman kick), 4:29