Mars quarterback Owen Nearhoof (No. 11) slips a tackle last year against Pine-Richland. Nearhoof and the Planets will play at Franklin Regional Friday night.
ADAMS TWP — What a way to kick off the 2012 high school football season. Perennial Greater Allegheny Conference power Mars and 2011 WPIAL Class AAA semifinalist and conference newcomer Franklin Regional will butt heads Friday in a battle of two teams with realistic shots at a conference title this year. The Panthers will host the 7 p.m. kickoff. Franklin Regional played in the Keystone Conference last year and compiled an 11-1 record. Its only loss was a 9-7 postseason defeat to Knoch. Though Planets coach Scott Heinauer admits this Friday’s clash is a big game, he wants his players to keep things in perspective. “You can’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” he said. “Win or lose, you have to know what the ultimate goal is. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” The Planets’ offense will be under the direction of second-year starter Owen Nearhoof, who is looking to improve on his six touchdown passes and eight interceptions from 2011. “He’s growing as a quarterback,” said Heinauer. “It’s a process and people have to understand that.” Franklin Regional’s offense returns several key players who helped the Panthers outscore their opponents 506-90. Running back Dane Brown, now a senior, led the way with 1,960 rushing yards and 34 total touchdowns. Another senior, quarterback Nico Lodovico, passed for 973 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. “Coach (Greg) Botta will have a well-coached team,” said Heinauer. “They should be in the playoffs at the end of the season.” Containing the Panthers begins in the trenches. Heinauer plans to start Cole Horan (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) and Jason Lozzi (6-0, 200) at end, while Jack Mettus (6-1, 220) and Jake Tumminello (6-1, 210) will man the tackle spots. Chris Panza (6-0, 311) will start the game at nose guard within his team’s 5-2 scheme. “That’s who we’re starting the game with, but we are planning on switching guys in and out,” said Heinauer. “It’s supposed to be a hot night.” Mars scrimmaged Beaver Falls and Pine-Richland this summer. “A coach’s view of a scrimmage can change over time,” Heinauer said. “A lot of younger coaches want to win at everything, even a scrimmage. Our approach is for our kids to learn from their mistakes and correct them. “Beaver Falls has a lot of fast kids and Pine-Richland is very well-coached,” he added. “That’s why we chose those two teams. We looked good against them.” Note: Also competing in the Greater Allegheny Conference this season are Knoch, Derry Area, Highlands, Hampton, Indiana, Greensburg Salem and Hollidaysburg.