After a disappointing loss to fellow celestial school Moon in the first week of the season, Mars has not lost a game, earning the Planets (8-1, 6-0) the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs and the Post-Gazette's No. 3 Class AAA ranking. Coach Scott Heinauer's team is the only WPIAL Class AAA team to allow an average of fewer than 10 points per game (9.2). Mars averages a 20.2-point margin of victory.
The Planets have won a conference championship in four of the past five seasons. Mars won at least a share of the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference title the past two seasons and won the Class AA Tri-County North Conference title in 2006 and '07. The Planets have appeared in two WPIAL championship games, both as a Class AA school. Mars lost to Seton-LaSalle, 20-6, in 2002 and to Aliquippa, 26-16, in 1996.
The Planets' loss to Moon in the first week of the season was unexpected, in part because, recently, Mars has been dominant and Moon has been a doormat. The Tigers did not win a game in 2009 or '08 and won just one game in '07. The Planets beat the Tigers by a combined 59-7 margin in '09 and '08. But the Tigers pulled off a big upset this season, beating Mars, 21-14. "Our kids coming into the season thought that everybody thought that we were supposed to win the conference," Heinauer said. "Everybody picked us to be undefeated. You know what? We were humbled very quickly. That was a good lesson for us."
WPIAL newcomer and No. 12 seed Hollidaysburg will travel to Mars tonight to challenge the Planets in a first-round WPIAL playoff game. Before reviewing game tape, Heinauer said he did not know much about the Golden Tigers. "They probably know more about me than I know about them," Heinauer said. Hollidaysburg (6-3, 4-3) is a high-scoring team that has scored at least 35 points four times this season.
Senior running back Austin Miele has been the Planets' best offensive player this season. Miele has rushed for 1,074 yards and 16 touchdowns. But his biggest contribution has been his maturity. "He's like a coach on the field," Heinauer said. Miele is the player to whom his teammates turn in times of adversity. "You know why? He's a very unselfish kid," Heinauer said. "He's a kid who wants everybody else to take the credit."
Number of Mars players who participated in an offseason weight conditioning program. If Mars looks like a strong team, it's no coincidence. The results from the Outer Limits Sports Performance training program are featured on the organization's website. "Some of those kids decided they wanted to be football players and just be football players," Heinauer said. "We have our own weight program, but some of those kids wanted to do that and not do any other sports." Heinauer said his staff encourages players to participate in as many sports as possible.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com