MANOR TWP, Armstrong County — All Mars' football team needed to do to win Friday at Armstrong Stadium was survive its second-quarter swoon.
There was a built-in sense of urgency for the Planets, who trailed by one at halftime after leading by 13, to put away Armstrong.
Starting with two Northern Conference losses would have put Mars in a tenuous playoff position.
But the Planets' offensive line put any concerns of losing a second consecutive road conference game to rest with a dominant second half during a 42-21 win over Armstrong.
“We had to play our technique,” Mars senior guard Dalton Becker said. “We came into the game knowing what we needed to do. We didn't do what we were coached to do. At halftime, we said we had to step up and play Mars football.”
Mars (3-2, 1-1) opened the second half with four drives which ended the same way — with rushing touchdowns. It was a resounding response for the Planets, who trailed 14-13 at halftime.
Momentum started to shift when Armstrong (1-3, 0-2) went three-and-out to open the second half. Mars then retook the lead on a 6-play, 56-yard drive which ended with a 3-yard scoring run by Teddy Ruffner with 8 minutes, 1 second left in the third quarter.
“We responded the way we needed to respond,” Planets coach Scott Heinauer said. “We played well the first few series. We abandoned what we did well, which was play our techniques.”
Ruffner, who also ran in the two-point conversion to put the Planets up 21-14, carried the ball six times on the scoring drive.
Armstrong coach Frank Fabian felt the River Hawks had the right strategy to stop the run. Executing that plan was the difficult part. Mars, which didn't complete and only attempted two passes, finished with 393 yards on the ground.
“Some of those holes, I think I could have run through,” Fabian said. “(Ruffner) is a handful. They took control of the line in the second half. I don't know it was anything we did. We had guys in the box and they were still able to run it.”
Another three-and-out by the River Hawks was followed by 67-yard touchdown run by Mars' Nick Spotti. The Planets would cash in on touchdown runs of 1 and 82 yards by Ruffner on the next two possessions, extending the lead to 42-14.
Ruffner finished with 272 yards and five touchdowns.
“We know how we can play, if we play our technique no one can run with us,” Becker said.
Mars appeared to be on a fast track to a win in the first quarter. The Planets started their second drive on the Armstrong 29 following a 10-yard punt. Ruffner put the Planets ahead with a 3-yard run.
Following a River Hawks fumble, Mars went ahead 13-0 on an 11-yard run by Ruffner.
Armstrong rallied behind its passing game. Nick Russo made a nice adjustment to the ball thrown by Cole Brown and scored on a 40-yard pass with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
The River Hawks would go ahead 14-13 when Brown scored on a 2-yard run midway through the second quarter.
Mars didn't wilt under the pressure.
The Planets rediscovered their offensive technique and were blistering in the second half to score an important win.
“It's tough,” Heinauer said. “This is the first time we've ever been here. In the second half, we came out and did what we were supposed to do. … We responded in the second half, that's all we care about.”
Mars hosts Shaler Friday.
Mars 13 0 22 7 — 42
Armstrong 7 7 0 7 — 21
M — Teddy Ruffner 3 run (Blake Edwards kick), 5:55
M — Ruffner 11 run (kick failed), 2:11
A — Nick Russo 40 pass from Cole Brown (Adam Hudock kick), :29
A — Brown 2 run (Hudock kick), 7:45
M — Ruffner 3 run (Ruffner run), 8:01
M — Nick Spotti 67 run (Edwards kick), 6:19
M — Ruffner 1 run (Edwards kick), 3:19
M — Ruffner 82 run (Edwards kick), 11:32
A — Justin Waugaman 39 pass from Brown (Hudock kick), :39
Rushing: Mars, Teddy Ruffner 28-273, Nick Spotti 6-87, Ben Chizmar 2-27, Drew Schlegel 5-13, Joey Tepke 3-6, Christian Kay 1-(-1), Noah Nesselroad 2-(-2). Armstrong, Cole Brown 21-87, Isaac Ridinger 12-36, Caleb Retzer 1-16, James Bradley 1-6, Cadin Olsen 1-(-1), Noah Cooper 1-(-4), TEAM 1-(-20).
Passing:Mars, Drew Schlegel 0-2-0-1. Armstrong, Brown 7-14-136-0, Olsen 2-4-12-0.
Receiving:Mars, none. Armstrong, Russo 3-71, Jonathan Waugaman 1-39, Cooper 2-15, James Bradley 1-14, Cole Brown 1-7, Dozick Zablocki 1-2.