West/North Xtra: Central Valley, Mars put value on offensive efficiency

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In the opinion of both team's coaches, the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal game between No. 3 seed Central Valley and No. 6 seed Mars Area will be a game decided by which team is more efficient offensively.

Game time is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Ambridge Area High School's Moe Rubenstein Stadium.

Both the Warriors and the Planets carry overall records of 9-1 into the game, and both are coming off resounding first-round victories.

Racing out to a 26-point halftime lead, Central Valley cruised to a 40-7 victory against Belle Vernon Area.

Mars broke open a close game with Elizabeth Forward, outscoring the Warriors, 17-8, in the second half en route to a 38-21 triumph.

"This is not going to be a 7-6 game," predicted Mars coach Scott Heinauer, who has led the Planets for 22 seasons. "I just don't see a low-scoring game. Both teams score a lot of points, and both defenses are pretty good. This has the makings of a good football game."

Heinauer's counterpart, Central Valley coach Mark Lyons, believes his vaunted defense -- which has given up just 53 points in 10 games and already has pitched five shutouts this season -- has plenty of concern for a type of offense that's not used too much in today's high school football.

"They run the wing-T," he said. "That type of offense -- when it's run well -- can be time-consuming. We can't allow them to eat up a lot of time running the ball. When you have more defensive snaps, it can wear your defense out. It's imperative not to allow them to eat up big chunks of time off the clock."

Lyons said his team will spend a lot of time attempting to mimic the Planets offense in practice this week.

"You can't really duplicate the wing-T [in practice], so it's going to be a challenge for us," he said. "We're going to try to replicate it, and our guys are going to do a lot of film study. That style of offense means we will have to be prepared and understand it."

Sparking the Planets are quarterback Owen Nearhoof, a 6-foot-1, 178-pound senior, and Josh Schultheis, a 6-1, 205-pound junior running back. Nearhoof has completed 32 of 59 passes for 782 yards and six touchdowns. He's also thrown five interceptions. Schultheis has run for 1,561 yards on 194 rushes, an average of 8.0 yards per carry. He rushed for two touchdowns last Friday night to give him 24 for the season.

"It fits with what they do," Lyons said. "He's a patient runner, and he's run the ball enough times so that he knows what to do. I think [Jason] Lozzi [6-0, 200, Sr.] is also effective. These guys understand that offense, and we can't allow them to settle into it."

Lozzi ran for one touchdown, and he returned an interception 50 yards for another against Elizabeth Forward.

While the Warriors have a pretty good idea who to key on in the Planets offense, Heinauer said his team will have to be prepared for just about anything -- offensively and defensively -- that Central Valley throws at Mars.

"Theirs is a balanced attack," he said. "They run a spread offense and will run the Wildcat out of that. It will be important for us to limit their possessions."

Nate Climo, a 6-3, 180-pound senior, was having a solid season for the Warriors, completing 30 of 59 passes for 405 yards and four touchdowns until he sustained an injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder in a 33-0 Parkway Conference victory against Moon Area.

"He was hurt on the last series of the game," Lyons said. "There's a chance he could be back, but we're happy with what John George [5-10, 160, Jr.] has been able to do for us. And, this is nothing new for John. He was in the playoffs last year when Nathan got hurt."

Thus far, he's completed 25 of 47 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns.

Teams have to prepare for two approaches when both quarterbacks are healthy.

"Nathan is a pocket guy who can extend plays in the pocket," Lyons said. "But John will extend a play out of the pocket because he can run."

George displayed his running ability with a 23-yard scoring run in last week's victory against Belle Vernon.

Running isn't necessarily a first option for George, however, because of the solid running game provided by JaQuan Pennington, a 5-8, 155-pound senior, and Jordan Whitehead, a 6-0, 180-pound junior.

Through nine games, Pennington had rushed for 738 yards on 97 rushes. He's also caught six passes for 112 yards. In that same time frame, Whitehead rushed 60 times for 544 yards and caught a team-high 11 passes for 173 yards. He plays well on defense and on special teams.

In last week's victory against Belle Vernon, Whitehead returned an interception 99 yards for one touchdown and a punt 77 yards for another score. He leads the team with 16 touchdowns.


n Game: Mars Area (9-1) vs. Central Valley (9-1).

n When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.

n Where: Moe Rubenstein Stadium, Ambridge.

n Skinny: Two teams with explosive offenses hope to keep the ball away from their opponent in this matchup.

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