Mars jumps on Highlands early to claim conference win

Friday, September 29, 2023 | 11:46 PM

Gabe Hein lifted a whole planet Friday night. Many of them, actually.

Hein sparked the Mars Fightin’ Planets to a 48-15 victory over visiting Highlands, scoring three touchdowns before leaving the game with an injury midway through the second quarter.

The Planets’ student section and their faithful fans erupted when Hein took the opening kickoff 75 yards to the house.

“It felt so good,” Hein said. “As soon as we got that lead, we knew we’re going to take it because we started off well early but lost last year. So we wanted to get, I wouldn’t say revenge, but we wanted to get back at them.”

Mars improved to 4-2, 2-0 in the Class 4A Greater Allegheny, and Highlands fell to 4-2, 1-2.

Despite Hein and Mason Childress being hurt before the second half, the Planets persevered.

Mars running back Evan Wright ran for 113 yards on 21 carries, punching in two touchdowns.

“When Hein goes down that really takes a hit on a passing attack,” Wright said. “We had to focus on the run. I knew going into this game, I was going to get carries. I didn’t always have to step in that high, but when I did, it was fun and I enjoyed it even when playing through the pain.”

After the opening kickoff return, Nathan Ewing picked off a pass, and the Planets capitalized when Luke Goodworth found Hein on a 25-yard go route to the end zone. Mars held a 13-0 lead 1 minute, 54 seconds into the game.

Hein finished with four receptions for 114 yards.

Mars got the ball back again when Childress intercepted a pass at his 10-yard line and ran it to the Planets 28.

On the second play of the drive, Goodworth connected with Hein on a dart pass that went 71 yards for a score. After the Childress PAT, the Planets led 20-0 with 6:17 left in the first.

After a three-and-out, the Planets manufactured a drive that extended into the second quarter.

On third and 5, Wright ran for a 5-yard touchdown, making it 27-0.

After a Highlands three-and-out, Hein took a hit near the sideline that finished his night.

Mars then turned the ball over in Highlands territory when Jrake Burford picked off Goodworth.

This led to a four-play drive that was capped off with a 38-yard touchdown run by Luke Bombalski, who finished with 114 rushing yards. After an unsuccessful PAT, it was 27-6.

A 40-yard throw from Menage Lucas to Montrell Johnson set up the Bombalski run.

Highlands’ Julius Saunders then blocked and recovered a punt that set up the Golden Rams in Mars territory.

This led to a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jamarkus Prager to Burford.

Nevertheless, the Planets ended the half with an Eric Kasporowicz 81-yard kick return for a touchdown. After Wright ran it in for 2, Mars led 35-13 heading into halftime.

The Planets then forced a fumble and recovered it at the Highlands 33 on the second-half kickoff.

Mars extended its lead to 41-13 on a Wright 10-yard touchdown run.

The Planets stood their ground at their own 3-yard line, turning the Rams over on downs on a drive that took up the majority of the quarter.

The Rams countered some points off a safety, making it 41-15.

The Planets put the Rams away after a Ayden Yocum 35-yard touchdown run and Gus Coffield knocked through the PAT.

“Last week we were down 19 against Moon and battled back to take the lead with a minute left in the game,” Mars coach Eric Kasporowicz said. “We end up losing in the end so we talked about that and stress the start: start fast.”

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