Mars quarterback Owen Nearhoof tries to escape a Derry defender earlier this season. Nearhoof and the Planets will host Highlands on Friday night.
JUSTIN GUIDO/CRANBERRY EAGLE
ADAMS TWP — The 1996 high school football season brings back fond memories for Mars football coach Scott Heinauer. In one respect, his current squad has a chance to match that team from the past. If the Planets (3-0, 3-0) can defeat visiting Highlands Friday night, Mars would begin the season 4-0 for the first time since 1996. That year, the Planets advanced to the WPIAL title game at Three Rivers Stadium and finished 11-2 overall. “We’d like to be compared to that team,” said Heinauer. “We try to draw comparisons to teams from the past all the time. Hopefully, there’s bigger things on the horizon for us.” The Planets rolled to a 40-6 victory at Indiana last week, but the win was not without flaw. Mars turned the ball over five times with three fumbles and two interceptions. The Planets also were penalized nine times for 89 yards. “It was raining and the ball was wet,” Heinauer said. “Our defense ended up bailing us out, but the turnovers and penalties, we can’t continue to do that and win games. “I have high expectations for our football team,” he added. “We’ve been successful with that attitude in the past.” Highlands (0-3, 0-3) remained winless last week with a 35-3 loss to Franklin Regional. The Golden Rams have been outscored 103-36 this season, but Mars needs only to look within its own conference to be reminded of a possible upset. Last Friday, previously winless Greensburg Salem defeated heavily favored Hampton 20-10. “Our kids know we have to take it one game at a time,” said Heinauer. Mars’ defense has allowed just 23 points this season, including six over the last two games combined. The unit had to adjust after losing senior cornerback Jacob Wright, who sustained a leg injury in Week 1 and is out for the remainder of the season. Junior Nolan Skirtich has taken his place. “Losing him (Wright) was a big loss for the team, but our defense has stepped it up,” Heinauer said. “You have to take pride in what you do and our kids do that.” Highlands is a very young team, but it does return two all-conference linebackers from 2011 in juniors Allan Cratsenberg and Zach Mazur. Also back is kicker Michael Masarik, a four-year letterman. Starting at quarterback for head coach Sam Albert is sophomore Blake Leri, who showed his ability when he passed for 203 yards and rushed for 106 in a season-opening loss to Hollidaysburg. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Highlands defeated the Planets last season 14-11.