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Highlands handed 1st loss of season by No. 5 Mars

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands quarterback Blake Leri is tackled by members of the Mars defense during the second half Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Blake Leri (10) is flipped as he is tackled by Mars' Nolan Skirtich (35) in the first half on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Mars quarterback Owen Nearhoof (10) throws a pass as he is pressured by Highlands' Julian Flenory (68) in the first half on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Highlands' Blake Leri (10) runs against Mars' Nolan Skirtich (35) in the first half Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Jeremy Jackson (6) reacts to dropping a pass near Mars' Nathan Sablowski (15) during the first half Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Mars' Travis Ganter (2) returns a punt for a touchdown late in the second quarter against Highlands on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Elijah Jackson (28) runs the ball at Mars' Jake Rosswog (13) during the first half on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Jeremy Jackson (6) bobbles a pass in front of Mars' Travis Ganter (2) in the second half Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at Golden Rams Stadium in Harrison Township.

A Highlands player slammed his helmet off the turf at one point, sending a shard from his headgear flying through the air.

That about summed up this night for Highlands, which looked dazed and frustrated — call it lost in space — against Mars.

Out of sync from the coin toss, Class-AAA No. 8 Highlands let No. 5 Mars have its way and fell, 39-0, in a Greater Allegheny Conference game at Golden Rams Stadium.

It was the first time Highlands had been shut out since 2010 against Mars.

The game went to the mercy rule in the second half.

Highlands was looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 2008.

“We made every mistake you could possibly make tonight,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “It's very disappointing after how we played last week against Franklin Regional. Our egos took a hit.”

Highlands (3-1, 3-1) had allowed just 72 yards rushing in its first three games, but Mars had that many before halftime Friday night. Junior running back Josh Schultheis ran for a game-high 71 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Planets (3-1, 3-1), who defeated Highlands, 55-6, last season.

Mars' only loss is to Franklin Regional, a team Highlands owned in Week 3. Highlands knew the feeling this time.

“We knew Highlands' defense was good, and their linebackers were the core,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “Our line took control of this game, and we had excellent field position. I am really proud of our kids and they way the kept their cool in such a big game.”

Getting plenty of breathing room to the outside, Mars burned the edges early.

Schultheis went off right tackle to open the scoring early.

Highlands appeared primed to answer the score but was doomed by a third-down sack. Sam Elliott's 30-yard field goal try was wide right.

Mars didn't need as much time to score again. Ori Rinaman caught a 38-yard pass to set up his 12-yard touchdown. Both pass conversions failed and Mars led, 12-0.

The Planets capped the first-half scoring when Travis Ganter caught a punt, ran wide and sprinted 45 yards.

“We didn't line up right and were out of position so many times,” Albert said. “We just weren't ourselves at all. We didn't fly to the ball.”

Penalties stunted a few Mars drives and prevented further damage. Schultheis, who has 10 TDs this season, also had a 51-yard score called back because of a penalty.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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