Mars surges past Montour as coach Eric Kasperowicz wins in return to sidelines

Saturday, August 27, 2022 | 12:13 AM

A year ago, coaches and players throughout Western Pennsylvania had a familiar refrain following their Week Zero contests. They got, as so many said, “back to normal.”

Eric Kasperowicz finally got to experience that.

The former Pine-Richland coach, who was controversially ousted last spring by the school’s administration, returned to WPIAL sidelines for the first time Friday night in Mars’ 34-26 win over Montour in a Week Zero nonconference contest.

“This is where I belong, at least for the time being,” said Kasperowicz, who took over the Mars program in April. “High school football. Western Pennsylvania.”

Not only did Kasperowicz win in his return, he also got to watch his son, Eric Jr., help lead the team there.

The younger Kasperowicz, who transferred to Mars when the family moved to the district this summer, overcame a pair of early interceptions and three straight drives that ended in turnovers to pass for 186 yards and a touchdown. He also ripped off a key 39-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

“It was a little emotional,” he said. “I was a little nervous coming in. A new school, getting adjusted to everything. But it’s been fun, a good start.”

The game, however, got off to a roller coaster of a beginning.

Mars, with an up-tempo offense that looked similar to Pine-Richland’s under Kasperowicz, screamed down the field on its opening possession, with Evan Wright scoring on a 3-yard run.

But the Fightin’ Planets were hit with a rash of turnovers after that. Kasperowicz was intercepted on consecutive drives, and Montour capitalized with a 21-yard run by Brock Janeda and a 9-yard pass from Jake Wolfe to James Bundridge to take a 13-7 lead.

On the ensuing series, a pitch to Garrett Heatherington was bobbled and grabbed out of the air by Kaleb Platz — who had intercepted Kasperowicz on the previous series. Platz returned the ball 80 yards for another score.

“We had things going our way,” Montour coach Lou Cerro said. “We had some great defensive stops early in the game. We made some plays and put them in bad positions. The momentum was all ours.”

That momentum, however, was stolen back by Mars, which scored on a 25-yard pass from Kasperowicz to Jacob Maple. The Planets then came through with a goal line stand on the final play of the first half, bringing down Janeda following a designed direct snap.

“That series before half, where we didn’t score, killed us,” Cerro said. “You go up two scores there and it’s a different game.”

“I think that’s the defining moment of the early part of the season,” Kasperowicz added. “We started good. They smacked us back and took the lead. We weren’t sure if the kids were going to quit.”

In the second half, Mars finally broke through with a defensive gem of its own, as Mason Childress intercepted Wolfe on a third down, returning the pick for a 52-yard touchdown to give Mars a lead it never relinquished.

“That interception, that was crazy,” Kasperowicz said. “It was awesome. A total game changer.”

The Fightin’ Planets then extended their lead on a 39-yard run from Kasperowicz. Wright, who ran for 148 yards on 20 carries, scored his second touchdown of the night, a 6-yard scamper.

“Credit our offensive staff. They made some tremendous adjustments at halftime to come out and find some holes,” Kasperowicz said. “Evan Wright was tremendous. But it all comes back to the offensive line. They stayed at it, and stayed at it. Eventually, it was going to pop, and that’s what happened.”

During the fourth quarter, the Spartans (0-1) lost Wolfe to an unspecified injury after being tackled on a running play. In Wolfe’s place, sophomore Trey Hopper passed for 100 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown to Keino Fitzpatrick II.

“We’re going to need (Hopper) next week if Jake can’t play,” said Cerro, who will face Moon next week. “It’s a big rivalry game. We’ll see what happens.”

Mars, meanwhile, just one Friday into the season, has won as many football games on the field as it did in 2021, when the Fightin’ Planets were retroactively awarded a victory via forfeit and also edged Knoch.

“They haven’t tasted victory,” Kasperowicz said. “One win last year. It’s just getting them to believe. That’s what it is. Get 80 kids to believe in the same thing and work towards that. And then good things happen.”

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