HAMPTON TWP — Owen Nearhoof was kicking himself.
The pass from the Mars quarterback fell into the hands of Hampton defensive back Jon Floss in the end zone at the end of the first half, quashing a golden opportunity for the Planets to build on their 7-3 lead.
“Any time you make a mistake, it’s tough,” Nearhoof said. “You feel so bad, like you let the team down.”
But Nearhoof shrugged off the miscue and the Mars coaching staff showed confidence in the senior quarterback to call a pass play on the second play of the Planets’ opening drive of the third quarter.
That pass, a perfectly thrown ball into the waiting hands of Garrett Ashbaugh on a dead run, resulted in a 50-yard touchdown and a 10-point lead sent Mars on its way to a 25-10 win over Hampton and the Greater Allegheny Conference title Friday night.
“When the team and the coaches have all the confidence in the world in you, when they call on you to make a big play, it’s awesome,” Nearhoof said.
The awesome feeling translated to the postgame celebration on the Fridley Field turf. A 21-0 loss to Knoch two weeks ago put the section title in jeopardy and a loss to the Talbots could have spelled doom for Mars, potentially dropping it from the top spot to fourth in the section.
But Mars (8-1, 7-1) responded to the challenge.
So did Nearhoof.
“You have to have some tIt doesn’t hurt to have a 6-foot-1, 225-pound battering ram of a running back in Josh Schultheis.
The Mars sophomore rushed for 172 yards on 34 bullish runs and scored two touchdowns.
His first from 2 yards out capped a nine-play, 72-yard drive that put the Planets ahead 7-0 early in the second quarter.
Hampton (7-2, 6-2), though, had a chance to even the score with a first-and-goal at the 1 on the ensuing drive, but the shotgun snap to running back Frank Bello in the wildcat formation soared over his head. By the time he flopped on the football, it was a 14-yard loss.
The Talbots had to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Jon Nigro.
Schultheis carried the ball 20 times for 92 yards in the second half. His 3-yard score midway through the fourth quarter gave the Planets a 19-10 lead.
Schultheis got big chunks of his yardage on a play that is called 38 toss.
With 1 minute left in the game, Mars decided to unleash a trick play set up by the 38 toss. Schultheis took the pitch, pulled up and threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ashbaugh to put the game most decidedly away.
The focus now turns to the WPIAL playoffs. As a section champion, Mars is assured a home game and will probably receive a high seed.