No. 4 Penn Hills forces 6 turnovers in 14-7 victory over Mars

Friday, September 13, 2019 | 10:11 PM

The halftime adjustment for Penn Hills’ defensive line seemed almost counter-intuitive: Try not to rush into the backfield too quickly.

“We’re normally like rockets. We go,” said senior Sqy Featherstone, a three-year starter. “But in this particular game, against this team, we had to slow it down, key in and be very disciplined.”

That slower approach up front bolstered a Penn Hills defense that force six turnovers Friday night — five in the second half — and defeated Mars, 14-7, in a key Northern Conference matchup. The Planets found some success early with draw plays and misdirection, but Penn Hills handled those better after halftime.

Mars rushed for 100 yards in the first half and 17 in the second.

“Our defensive line was getting a little too much penetration,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said. “So at halftime, our defensive line coaches (Mike White and Ron Graham) told our D-linemen they needed to slow down a little bit and see a little better.”

The move also eliminated a string of encroachment penalties that had extended Mars drives.

“It was a great call from the coaches’ box to slow down,” said Featherstone, who forced a fumble and recovered another. “I think it had a great effect.”

Trailing 7-0, Penn Hills rallied with two second-half touchdown runs by senior Germar Howard, including a game-winning 78-yarder up the middle with 4:29 left in the fourth quarter. He led No. 4 Penn Hills (3-1, 2-0) with 122 rushing yards on 11 carries.

Howard also had an 18-yard touchdown run in the third, but this was a night for the Penn Hills defense to celebrate. Mars had six second-half possessions and ended them with a punt, two lost fumbles and three interceptions.

After Penn Hills took a 14-7 lead, Mars threw two interceptions in the final four minutes.

“You can’t make mistakes against a team like this,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “We normally don’t do that, but you can’t turn over the football.”

Teddy Ruffner led Mars (2-2, 0-1) with 85 yards rushing on 29 carries. The Planets led 7-0 at halftime after a 14-yard touchdown pass from Quinn Fuller to tight end Mitchell Wright.

The first half followed Mars’ plan almost perfectly: control the ball and keep Penn Hills’ offense on the sideline. The Planets held possession for more than 15 of the first 24 minutes and kept Penn Hills scoreless.

“There are two halves,” Heinauer said. “We played well, but they just played better in the second half.”

Tied 7-7, Penn Hills had fourth-and-goal from the 1 early in the fourth quarter and was stopped short of the end zone when Wright tackled quarterback Eddie McKissick in the backfield with 9 minutes, 49 seconds left.

Unable to cross its own 30, Mars punted the ball back to Penn Hills with 4:41 left. One play later, Howard broke free for his 78-yard touchdown.

“We talk every week about hitting the A-gap,” LeDonne said. “He did one jab step, hit the A-gap downhill and pretty much went untouched through the middle.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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