Mars runners dominant in Greater Allegheny win at Knoch
Knoch hit a serious speed bump in the Route 228 rivalry.
Trying to make it three straight wins against its Butler County foes, Knoch stumbled out of the gate and saw its once-dependable run defense fade in a 40-7 loss to Class AAA No. 5 Mars on Friday night at Knoch Stadium.
Mars (6-1, 5-1) gashed the Knights (3-4, 2-4) for 376 yards on the ground and junior running back Josh Schultheis ran for 184 and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Schultheis eclipsed the 3,000-yard mark for his career as Mars clinched a playoff spot in the Greater Allegheny Conference.
“All this week we talked about being faster and more physical,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “Last year, they came to our place and embarrassed us. We made some big plays early, and I think that loosed up their defense.”
Mars, which won its sixth straight, outgained Knoch, 499-165. Knoch shocked Mars last season, 21-0.
“They were clearly the better team today, in all phases,” Knoch coach Mike King said. “There's is nothing else I can say. We went in with a game plan we thought could work against them and we sputtered. We have to find our confidence.”
There was some thought that Mars, accustomed to playing on turf, might be slowed on Knoch's grass field, pending some forecasted rain that might have muddied the playing surface.
But the rain never came, and Mars ran wild. On this night, the Planets could have run on a field made of milktoast.
Jason Lozzi added 79 yards rushing and scored twice for the Planets, who had six runs of 20 or more yards.
“Mars blocked really well,” King said. “They're exactly the team I thought they'd be tonight.”
Mars QB Owen Nearhoof completed 4 of 9 passes for 128 yards and a 66-yard touchdown to Nolan Skirtich on the Planets' second play of the game.
Nearhoof also had an interception on defense.
“People never give us any credit for being able to throw the football,” Heinauer said. “People don't think we can throw, but we can.”
Knoch came into the game with one of the conference's top run defenses, having allowed just 264 yards in a half-dozen games. But Mars had 220 by halftime and was met with little resistance.
Knoch tacklers melted off rushers as the Planets took a 27-0 lead into the half. Knoch managed just 21 yards in the first half.
Mars stuffed Knoch's attempts to run the wildcat, something that worked in last year's game.
Schultheis scored on runs of 18 and 1 yard.
“Josh can be physical when he wants to,” Heinauer said.
Knoch's score came with 6:03 left, on a 1-yard run by Cody Milsom.
Knoch quarterback Dan Farinelli threw for 123 yards, finding Jim Larrimer four times for 70 yards.
Knoch still leads the all-time series, 22-10.
Mars is 3-3 against the Knights since the teams resumed play following a 24-year hiatus.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.