Whitehead's outburst leads Central Valley past Mars
Central Valley junior Jordan Whitehead was so explosive that he nearly ran out of ways to reach the end zone.
Whether it was catching a touchdown pass, returning a kickoff for a score, grabbing an interception or sprinting away from everyone, Whitehead didn't lack for ways to impact Friday's WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal.
Whitehead scored three consecutive touchdowns three ways and added an interception to carry No. 3 Central Valley to a 35-21 victory over No. 6 Mars at Ambridge's Moe Rubenstein Stadium.
“I wanted to give my team a little pep,” Whitehead said. “I didn't want to lose.”
After catching a touchdown pass late in the second quarter, Whitehead took the opening kickoff of the second half 92 yards for a score.
He sprinted 74 yards for another touchdown and a 28-14 lead after he caught the 2-point conversion pass from quarterback John George midway through the third.
But Central Valley (10-1) didn't exhale until John George returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown.
“When you have special players, you expect them to make some splash plays,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “I thought we did that (Friday).”
Central Valley advanced to play No. 2 Thomas Jefferson, a 23-14 winner over seventh-seeded Highlands, next Friday in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals at a time and site to be determined.
George, who also plays quarterback, threw for 78 yards. Whitehead rushed for 100, and JaQuan Pennington added 40.
Mars quarterback Owen Nearhoof passed for 122 yards and a touchdown.
This marks the fourth consecutive year — every one in the school's existence — that Central Valley, the 2010 WPIAL champion, has reached the semifinals.
The Warriors did it, in part, by limiting Mars running back Josh Schultheis to 85 yards — about 70 yards below his average — and a fourth-quarter touchdown.
“I thought they did a good job of understanding where he was,” Lyons said.
Central Valley drove 89 yards on 15 plays in 6 minutes, 38 seconds to grab an early 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run by Preston Johnson. The Warriors converted three third downs and once on fourth down to keep the drive going.
Mars (9-2) answered with a nine-play drive that Nearhoof capped with a 9-yard scoring strike to Travis Ganter.
The Planets jumped ahead 14-7 on Jason Lozzi's 6-yard run midway through the second quarter, but the lead didn't last long.
Taking advantage of a short field, Central Valley covered 40 yards in 28 seconds and tied it after a 6-yard pass from George to Whitehead with just 19 seconds left before halftime, the start of Whitehead's impressive takeover.
“He came up big,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said of Whitehead. “He was the difference in the game.”