Hampton keeps Mars from clinching playoff spot

Friday, October 21, 2022 | 11:43 PM

The playoff scenario for Mars was much easier heading into this game: A win at home, and the Fightin’ Planets would be in. But Hampton had other ideas as the Talbots kept their playoff hopes alive with an exciting 49-42 road victory.

First-year Hampton coach Steve Sciullo was impressed with his team’s resilience in the victory.

“Their backs were against the wall a few times, and they just kept responding,” Sciullo said.

Hampton got the scoring going when Benny Haselrig caught a screen pass from Joey Meyer and ran 36 yards down the far sideline to give Hampton a 7-0 1st quarter lead.

It didn’t take long for Mars to answer: 13 seconds later, Garrett Heatherington returned the ensuing kickoff 80-yards to tie the score 7-7.

The Fightin’ Planets took their first lead of the game late in the opening quarter as sophomore Eric Kasperowicz scampered to the end zone from 14 yards on a third-and-goal to put Mars in front 14-7. The drive was set up when Isaak Winters recovered a Hampton fumble at the Talbots 26-yard line.

The Talbots tied the score halfway through the second quarter, when Brock Borgo scored on a 17-yard run. The touchdown drive came one possession after Hampton put together a 13-play drive that ended when Mars’ Hayden Mayer intercepted a Talbots pass at the goal line.

Then Hampton jumped back in front on its next possession using the screen pass, which was effective the entire first half. Mayer found Eric Weeks on a middle screen, and the senior did the rest, sprinting untouched into the end zone from 59 yards as the Talbots took a 21-14 lead.

Weeks finished with five receptions, 117 yards and the touchdown.

Mars was able to tie the score 21-21 late in the half, when Evan Wright scored on a 4-yard run.

The Fightin’ Planets had a chance to retake the lead at the break, but a bad snap prevented Mars from attempting a 32-yard field goal.

The second half provided the same excitement as the first 24 minutes, as the game featured seven lead changes and 864 yards of offense.

Borgo had a 63-yard run halfway through the third quarter, and Hampton regained the lead 28-21.

Wright answered for Mars with a 21-yard run to tie the score 28-28.

It was the Mayer-to-Haselrig connection again from 36 yards as the two hooked up late in the third quarter to put the Talbots back in front 35-28.

The Mars defense then got into the act as senior Rafael Bartley intercepted a screen pass and returned it 39 yards for a pick-6 that tied the score 35-35.

But Hampton was undaunted, and once again it was Mayer to Haselrig. This time the seniors connected on a 73-yard bomb that vaulted Hampton back on top 42-35.

Haselrig hauled in seven catches good for 225 yards and three touchdowns.

Sciullo was excited over the performance from a couple of his two top playmakers, Borgo and Haselrig.

“I can’t say enough about those two,” Sciullo said. “They’re our guys. All our kids were fantastic tonight. Brock Borgo is a great kid and a great player, and I want people to know that. I’m proud of him.”

Mars again overcame the deficit. Kasperowicz scored his second touchdown on a 5-yard run on fourth-and-4 to make the score 42-42.

Kasperowicz passed for 142-yards and rushed for another 62 yards and a pair of touchdowns

The Talbots defense then produced a big play. With Mars driving, Luke Hartle deflected a pass and linebacker Mike Santotello made a diving interception to give the Talbots possession at their 9-yard line with just more than 4 minutes remaining. After a procedure penalty moved the ball back to the 4, Hampton went to work.

“Hartle makes a great play there and Santo (Santorello) picks it off, and that just got us rocking and rolling,” Sciullo said.

This time Mayer, who was injured against Kiski Area and returned last week at quarterback against Indiana, did the final damage with his legs, scoring on a 26-yard run down the right sideline with 1:15 left.

The senior completed 13 of 24 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns and added another 59 yards on the ground to go with his winning score.

“I’m going to be sore on Monday,” Mayer said. “But this was worth it.”

The Talbots defense stopped Mars on downs near midfield, and Hampton ran out the clock to secure the 49-42 win.

Sciullo liked the finished as it was different from the back-and-forth play for most of the night.

“It was just an amazing finish,” Sciullo said. “The whole game was just big plays, and then we get to grind one out at the end, which was just so fitting. We got a good stop there at the end.”

Hampton outgained Mars, 528-336, on the night.

“It was disappointing to let up a pick-six and a special teams touchdown, but our kids fought and they fought,” Sciullo said. “Their kids fought, too. This is why you play high school football in Western Pennsylvania: to play your rival on a Friday night.”

Mars (5-4, 2-3 Greater Allegheny conference) will need a victory at home next week against North Catholic to have a chance at a WPIAL Class 4A playoff berth.

The Talbots (5-4, 3-2) will host Highlands in another crucial matchup as the possibility exists that Hampton, Mars and North Catholic all could end up with 3-3 conference records with each team having a victory over one of the other opponents.

“We have a chance with a win, and if Mars wins, we could be the two seed (in the Greater Allegheny),” Sciullo said. “We are going to focus this week and control what we can control and go out and play Highlands and do the best we can, and that’s all we can really ask out of our kids.”

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