Spotting ‘fakes’ crucial as Penn Hills prepares for Mars’ misdirection

Thursday, September 12, 2019 | 11:42 AM

Mars coach Scott Heinauer took time during film study to praise a run by Nick Spotti that gained exactly zero yards.

Spotti ran hard, but didn’t have the football.

Instead, he sold the fake really well, Heinauer said, drawing the defense away from teammate Teddy Ruffner, who rushed for 328 yards on 19 carries last week.

“We showed that to all of our kids this past week on video,” Heinauer said. “We said, look at those linebackers watching (Spotti) and there goes Teddy, he’s over there. This is how important those fakes really are.”

Mars will try to recreate that misdirection Friday night when the Planets (2-1, 0-0) visit fourth-ranked Penn Hills (2-1, 1-0) for a Northern matchup that could decide the Class 5A conference title.

Penn Hills has one of the WPIAL’s fastest defenses, an aggressive group that pursues the football well as a unit. However, against a seldom-seen, wing-T offense that’s built on tricks and traps, a defense can find itself caught out of position.

At least that’s what Mars hopes, and what Penn Hills will try to prevent.

“It’s so hard to prepare for because you don’t have a scout team that’s used to running something like that,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said. “You’ve got to remain disciplined and play your side of the football. Don’t try to be a hero and chase something down away from you. Something could be coming back.”

Mars is the only team in the conference that features a traditional wing-T offense.

“We’ve been taking the scout-team guys out early, trying to get them reps with the (wing-T) offense while we’re doing varsity film or varsity lift,” LeDonne said. “Obviously, the exchanges and the speed is going to happen a lot quicker Friday night.”

A year ago, the Penn Hills defense didn’t have too much trouble adjusting.

The Indians took an early lead and defeated Mars, 36-15. That senior-heavy lineup ultimately won the conference title by one game and later added undefeated WPIAL and PIAA titles.

“It was a big game last year; the winner of this game won the conference,” Heinauer said. “We think this is a big game. It could be a similar situation.”

The strength of this year’s Penn Hills defense is its line: seniors Sqy Featherstone (6-0, 210), Jamie Tigner (6-0, 200), Derrell Porter (6-1, 200) and Donovan Carpenter (6-3, 200).

Featherstone and Tigner are three-year starters.

“Those four guys up front are helping us control the line of scrimmage,” LeDonne said.

The Indians defeated conference opponent Fox Chapel, 33-13, last week. Quarterback Eddie McKissick, a first-year starter, rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another. He connected with Anthony Grimes for a 39-yarder.

“That kid’s got better and better and better each week,” Heinauer said of McKissick. “I think that’s the biggest factor. He scrambles around, keeps the play alive and finds those receivers. We can’t allow him to have that extra time.”

Mars is coming off a 47-28 nonconference victory over Greensburg Salem last week. Heinhauer pulled his starters early in the third quarter, but Ruffner (5-9, 197) already had rushed for five touchdowns. Spotti and Joe DeLuca, the team’s wingbacks, also scored as the Planets rushed for 514 yards.

They’re running behind a veteran line anchored by Notre Dame recruit Michael Carmody at tackle.

Ruffner’s touchdowns included runs on 88 and 71 yards.

“When you look at him, people say he doesn’t look like he’s that fast,” Heinauer said. “But once they see him run, he gets up on you and he’s pretty fast. You can see by the long runs.”

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

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