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Quarterfinal Clash

Spot in Final 4 on line for Mars, Central Valley

Central Valley had to learn a different path to victory on the gridiron this season and the Warriors have adapted well enough to still be in the hunt for a championship.

"In past years, we made our way through seasons by mercy-ruling a lot of teams," said veteran head coach Mark Lyons. "We are a very young team this year and needed to be more patient, let games play out for us."

Mars' Logan O'Brien celebrates a turnover
Mars' Logan O'Brien (24) celebrates a turnover in a recent game against Kiski Area. The Planets are preparing to take on Central Valley in a WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal playoff Friday night in Ambridge. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

Central Valley won three straight WPIAL titles 2019-21 before losing to Aliquippa in last year's championship game. Standing in the Warriors' way of reaching the district's Class 4A semifinals is a Mars team fresh off the program's first playoff win in eight years.

The teams will collide at 7 p.m. Friday at Ambridge High School's Moe Rubenstein Stadium.

Lyons said just five of his 22 starters are seniors. One position where no seniors are contributing is running back, but it hasn't stopped the Warriors (8-3) from being productive. Jance Henry Jr., a freshman, has gained nearly 1,000 yards this season and scored 13 touchdowns.

"He just kept elevating himself each and every game and now, it's hard to keep him off the field with the way he's playing," said Lyons.

The Warriors have also received 717 yards and 12 TDs from junior T. Mason Dixon. Brandon Singleton, another junior, has 497 yards and four scores.

"It's more competition in practice," said Lyons. "They're all pushing each other."

At quarterback is junior Steven Rutherford, a first-year starter. He's passed for 1,200 yards with 10 TDs and four interceptions. He, too, has added to the ground game with 400 yards and 10 scores and had three total TDs in last week's 28-7 first-round win over Highlands.

CV's two senior starters on offense are both linemen — right tackle Nick McCreary (6-1, 263) and right guard Tyler Costanza (6-1, 225), a three- and two-year starter, respectively.

The Warriors’ three losses have come against Avonworth (28-20), Montour (21-20) and Aliquippa (27-17). Those teams have a combined record of 28-1.

Mars (9-2) has won six straight games, all but one by at least 25 points. The Planets dispatched Chartiers Valley in the first round last week, 44-19, but limp into Friday’s quarterfinal.

Sophomore receiver Gabe Hein (774 receiving yards, eight TDs) is still nursing an ankle injury and junior Eric Kasperowicz, a factor in all three phases of the game, was lost to injury for the season in a recent game against North Catholic.

Evan Wright is up to 1,656 rushing yards and has scored 34 total TDs this season. He’s making the most out of blocks provided by starters on the line — center Adam Budzilek, guards Isaak Winters and Colton Ewing and tackles Sean Franklin and Jameson Astarb.

“If we’re one-dimensional, they (Warriors) can just focus on stopping Evan,” Coach Kasperowicz said. “Our guys in the passing game have to step up and make plays downfield.

“Central Valley plays the same defense we do. They’re attacking and force teams into mistakes. We have to be patient and take what they give us.”

Quarterback Luke Goodworth (1,872 passing yards, 19 TDs) will focus on getting the ball to Aidan Alessio, Blake Yates and Liam Hein, among others.

The Planets and Warriors have met in the postseason twice before, with Central Valley winning both games — 48-41 in a 2015 semifinal and 35-21 in a quarterfinal in 2013.

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