Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

No Time to Waste in Key Gac Opener Favored Mars, Franklin Regional Collide in Conference Showdown

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

No Time to Waste in Key Gac Opener Favored Mars, Franklin Regional Collide in Conference Showdown

Article excerpt

For the second year in a row, Mars Area and Franklin Regional open the season against one another in a game that ultimately could decide the Greater Allegheny Conference championship.

But unlike last season, when both teams returned the majority of their starters, players who took on lesser roles a year ago will dominate the scenery, making this an even more challenging test for these WPIAL Class AAA foes when they square off Friday at the Mars Athletic Complex.

"It's an awfully difficult task to play against them in game one, but we've got to play them at some point in time," Mars coach Scott Heinauer said.

Franklin Regional brings back three starters on offense and two on defense. Two of the offensive starters, however, are playing different positions.

Mars returns four starters on both sides of the ball.

"For us, it's a good way to evaluate what kind of team we have," Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said.

Many have tabbed Mars as the favorite to win the conference title. The defending champions went 7-1 in conference play last season, placing them in front of Franklin Regional, Hampton and Knoch, all of which finished tied for second at 6-2.

Like Franklin Regional, the Planets are inexperienced on the lines, but they have back three starters in the offensive backfield - - senior quarterback Owen Nearhoof, junior fullback Josh Schultheis and senior wing back Jason Lozzi.

Schultheis was a relative unknown heading into last season but used a 163-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 21-17 triumph at Franklin Regional to springboard himself to a terrific season. He scored the winning touchdown on a fourth-and-1 from the 2 with 5:44 left in the game.

"We didn't know who he was last year," Botta said. "He came into [the game] as a sophomore. We kept saying, 'Who was that?' We didn't expect that. He had a great game. He's a powerful runner."

Schultheis (6 feet 1, 205 pounds) rushed for 1,687 yards and 27 touchdowns, ranking him second in Class AAA in both categories.

The Planets also have Lozzi, who has rushed for 1,050 yards and 14 touchdowns during the last two seasons.

Botta said that the wing-T offense Mars employs is difficult to prepare for and play against, primarily because of the precision at which the Planets run it, as well as the fact that very few teams still use it. …

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