Mars rallies to capture win against Franklin Regional, 21-17
Mars Josh Schultheis runs against ball Franklin Regional's Charan Singh in the first half Friday in Murrysville.
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On the road against the top-ranked Class AAA team in the WPIAL, Mars found itself on the ropes late in a contest that the Planets once led by two touchdowns.
But as was proven throughout the game, when the going got tough, Josh Schultheis got going.
Schultheis, a sophomore fullback, ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, the second coming with less than six minutes left to help Mars stun Franklin Regional, 21-17, Friday in a Greater Allegheny Conference game.
"The kid was a beast," Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said of Schultheis, who rushed for 269 yards total his freshman season. "He never stopped. He never gave up. He was cramping but came right back. He was determined. I give Schultheis all the credit in the world."
Franklin Regional, which returned five all-conference players from last year's WPIAL semifinalist, rallied from a 14-0 deficit to take a 17-14 lead when Brent Velasquez kicked a 26-yard field goal with 8:58 remaining in the game.
But after losing momentum, Mars quickly regained it on the ensuing kickoff when Alex Smith's return gave the Planets the ball at the Franklin Regional 32-yard line. The Planets moved to the 11 on Jason Lozzi's 17-yard run, but eventually faced a fourth-and-1 from the 2. After calling a timeout, Mars coach Scott Heinauer elected to go for the lead instead of the tie. It paid off when Schultheis bounced to the right side for the go-ahead touchdown with 5:44 left.
"We never even considered a field goal," Heinauer said. "We just thought we would try to run the clock down as much as we could. We thought we could get the ball to the outside. They brought guys inside. Our guys collapsed down. Fortunately, Josh ran into the end zone."
Added Schultheis: "I knew we had to come back. We had to make good plays and we had to get in the end zone. If not, the game was over for us. We executed, got good holes, and that was it."
However, Franklin Regional still had time. And they had senior Dane Brown, one of the top running backs in the WPIAL. Brown had rushed for 1,960 yards and scored 34 touchdowns last season.
Franklin Regional quarterback Nico Lodovico took a keeper 11 yards for a first down to push the Panthers inside Mars territory at the 47. That's when the Planets' defense flexed its muscles. After Nick Vento gained 4 yards on first down, Brown carried for gains of 1 and 3 yards to set up a fourth-and-2 at the Mars 39. Brown's number was called again, but he was stopped at the line of scrimmage.
"Our goal was to come in here and try to stop the quarterback and stop Brown," Heinauer said. "We felt if we could stop them in crucial situations, we would have a chance. We came up with some big plays. Hats off to our defense. I think they did a good job when they needed to do a great job."
Brown finished with 166 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He carried the Panthers on the tying drive, gaining 66 yards on five attempts.
Mars jumped to its 14-point advantage by getting touchdowns from Smith on a 38-yard pass from Owen Nearhoff in the first quarter, and then Schultheis' one-yard score in the second quarter.
Down 14-0 and with its offense doing little, Franklin Regional used a 16-play, 88-yard drive that took more than six minutes off the clock and culminated with a Brown two-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left in the first half.
The Panthers tied the score when Lodovico completed his only pass of the game to Colin Jonov for a 52-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.
"It's a big win, but again, it's not everything," Heinauer said. "We've still got a long way to go."
First Published September 1, 2012 12:55 am