Belle Vernon starts fast, rolls past Mars in opening round
All week leading up to the WPIAL playoffs, Belle Vernon football coach Matt Humbert was fretting over his team's mindset. For Humbert, call it a one-game-at-a-time mentality.
“It's easy to focus on the next game and forget about the game at hand,” Humbert said.
Not to worry. Belle Vernon's focus couldn't have been better when the Leopards took to their home field Friday night for a Class 4A first-round game against Mars.
Mason Pascoe rushed for 130 yards and Larry Callaway added 100 and scored the game's first touchdown on a 37-yard run as unbeaten No. 2 Belle Vernon rolled to a 42-7 victory over No. 7 Mars.
The Leopards will play rival Thomas Jefferson (9-1) in the semifinals. Belle Vernon defeated TJ, 21-17, on Oct. 13.
The opportunistic Leopards capitalized on early turnovers to build a big first-half lead.
Logan Pfronger returned a punt 52 yards as part of Belle Vernon's 21-point first quarter. Jared Hartman threw a 37-yard pass to Derek Thomas to give the Leopards a 21-0 advantage on the final play of the first quarter.
Hartman's 1-yard touchdown run in the second put Belle Vernon ahead 28-0 at halftime.
Belle Vernon (10-0) forced five turnovers — three interceptions and two fumble recoveries — though not all of them resulted in points. But they did give the Leopards possession.
“We are a running team, and we wanted to grind up yardage,” Humbert said. “We've been very good at forcing turnovers this year.”
Belle Vernon ran its season total to 31.
“We turned the ball over, and that's obviously a problem when you're playing a team like this,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “You just can't do it and expect anything good to happen. They're big and physical, and they did a good job up front. That was the difference.”
Garrett Reinke scored Mars' only touchdown in the third quarter on a 50-yard run to cut the Fighting Planets deficit to 28-7 before Belle Vernon scored twice in the fourth quarter on touchdown runs of 3 and 5 yards by Dylan Haney.
Armed with a big lead, Belle Vernon reached the Mars 1 in the third quarter, but a pair of 10-yard penalties kept the Leopards out of the end zone after Reinke's long touchdown run for Mars (6-5).
Belle Vernon stretched its lead to 28-0 nearly four minutes into the second quarter on Hartman's 1-yard keeper. The drive started at the Mars 38 following an interception by Belle Vernon's Andrew Pacak.
The Leopards wasted a chance to add on after Logan Petrosky's fumble recovery at the Mars 27, when the Mars defense held the Leopards on fourth down at the 18.
Pascoe, who carried 20 times for Belle Vernon, gained 103 of his 130 yards rushing in the second half, while Callaway, who carried 13 times, gained 58 first-half yards.
“Those two kids are real competitors,” Humbert said. “It's great to have that versatility. They're always going back and forth with each other, and they're there to pick the other guy up.”
Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.