JEFFERSON HILLS — It was the kind of first quarter that Mars could ill afford in its attempt to upset Thomas Jefferson in Friday's WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal football playoff.
But it didn't start out that way.
On the second play of the game, Jaguars' quarterback Jake Pugh called the wrong play, causing confusion in the backfield.
The result was a fumble recovered by Mars' Jordan Moser and the Planets took over at TJ's 18-yard line.
But the Jaguars' defense held Mars fullback Teddy Ruffner to nine yards on four plays, getting TJ's offense back on the field.
“We had an opportunity, but didn't do anything with it,” said Mars coach Scott Heinauer. “They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball tonight.”
The Jaguars then marched 91 yards in just eight plays, scoring the game's first points on Pugh's nine-yard touchdown pass to Ian Hansen.
It was the beginning of a scoring spree for the host Jaguars (6-1), who posted a 41-6 victory to advance to the semifinals.
Mars made its uphill climb even more difficult on its next offensive series.
Quarterback Quinn Fuller fumbled after being hit and TJ's Conner Murga scooped up the gift and raced 35 yards for a touchdown.
With just under five minutes left in the first quarter, the Planets found themselves down 13-0.
The Jaguars, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champions, lost at home to McKeesport last Friday to close the regular season.
“It's tough when you play a team with something to prove,” said Heinauer. “I'm sure they had something to prove after last week.”
The rest of the half belonged to Pugh, who added two more scoring tosses to Preston Zandier from 16 and nine yards.
Pugh misfired on just one of his 15 pass attempts in the game, throwing for 212 yards and four touchdowns.
“We expect him to do well,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “He's a good athlete with good receivers to throw to.”
Mars' proud ground game was completely shut down. Ruffner, who entered the contest with 1,560 yards this season, gained just 11 yards on 12 carries. He left the game late in the first half with an ankle injury and the Jaguars leading 34-0.
“Could he have continued to play?,” asked Heinauer. “If it was a 7-6 game, he probably would have been taped up and gone back in.
“But considering the score, we didn't want him to get hurt. We made the decision to keep him out and that was in his best interest.”
“He is strong, but also has the ability to break long runs,” Cherpak said of Ruffner. “We knew he was their main weapon and keyed on him.”
Mars (6-2) avoided being shut out when Fuller connected with Pete Gonzalez on a 10-yard scoring pass early in the fourth period.
Though disappointed in how the season ended, Heinauer kept things in perspective.
“Back in June, we didn't think we'd be playing at all,” he said. “We ended up getting a season in and made the playoffs. You have to look at it from that point of view.”
Mars 0 0 0 6 — 6
Th. Jefferson 13 21 7 0 — 41
TJ — Ian Hansen 9 pass from Jake Pugh (Jack Sella kick), 5:48
TJ — Conner Murga 35 fumble return (kick blocked), 4:46
TJ — Preston Zandier 16 pass from Pugh (Sella kick), 11:56
TJ — Zandier 9 pass from Pugh (Sella kick), 9:55
TJ — Murga 9 run (Sella kick), 2:23
TJ — Zandier 13 pass from Pugh (Sella kick), 5:30
M — Pete Gonzalez 10 pass from Quinn Fuller (kick failed), 9:32
Rushing: Mars, Teddy Ruffner 12-11, Quinn Fuller 6-9, Anthony Vargo 2-(-5), Evan Wright 6-9, Hayden Mayer 1-(-3). Thomas Jefferson, DeRon VanBibber 8-44, Jake Pugh 2-(-5), Conner Murga 6-55, Ryan Feth 2-8, Elias Lippincott 7-55, Mike Inks 1-7, Wyatt Janosko 1-4, TEAM 1-(-1).
Passing:Mars, Quinn Fuller 5-10-80-1. Thomas Jefferson, Jake Pugh 14-15-212-0.
Receiving:Mars, Evan Thompson 1-8, Jake Wooldridge 1-(-1), Chris Dvorak 1-26, Pete Gonzalez 2-47. Thomas Jefferson, Preston Zandier 6-110, Ian Hansen 7-98,Isaac Eckley 1-4.