MARS — New Castle High certainly made itself at home on the road Friday night.
Playing its first game of the season away from Taggart Stadium, the Red Hurricane piled up 435 yards of offense and forced four turnovers on defense in a 40-14 WPIAL nonconference football game at the Mars Athletic Complex.
“We have some size and some speed,” New Castle coach Joe Cowart said. “We were able to combine that with some physicality tonight. I thought the guys believed in the game plan and believed in each other, and that showed on the field.”
The ‘Canes (2-1) did the bulk of their damage on offense on the ground. New Castle ran the ball 57 times for 435 yards in the contest.
“The guys up front were doing a great job of blocking,” New Castle senior quarterback Chris Hood said. “They were opening up big holes for us.”
Hood led the ground assault, calling his own number 13 times and gaining 170 yards.
“Chris is a leader for us,” Cowart said. “He makes good decisions and takes care of the ball when he’s under duress. Chris is a finisher with the ball in his hands. He gives you that ability to hit a home run now and then. He has that running back background; he played a lot of that a year ago. For a guy starting just his third varsity game at quarterback, he’s definitely clicking in the right direction.”
Malik Jefferson (85 yards), Braylen Sibley (75) and Kaevon Gardner (45) also made big contributions to the New Castle ground attack.
“Our offensive linemen really believes in each other,” Cowart said. “Those guys up front steer the ship. They are the rudder. They are the guys who are going to make it happen, and they did a heck of a job tonight.”
The ‘Canes took the game’s opening kickoff and drove 81 yards in 11 plays to grab a lead they would never relinquish. Hood polished off the drive by scoring from a yard out. Angel Porras added the kick to make it 7-0 at the 7:01 mark of the first quarter.
The Planets (0-3) managed just one offensive play on the ensuing series, as New Castle’s Austin Kelly scooped up a fumble at the Mars 28-yard line.
Four plays later, Hood connected with Tayshaun Wilkins on a 30-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick was blocked, but the ‘Canes held a 13-0 lead with 5:08 remaining in the first quarter.
“We hit a big pass early,” Cowart said. “And that really helped open up the running game. We knew we had the ability to do both.”
Hood and Wilkins also had interceptions in the game.
New Castle increased its lead to 21-0 at the half, as Braylen Sibley broke free for a 33-yard TD scamper with 2:31 remaining in the second quarter.
A Hood 42-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter gave the ‘Canes a 27-0 lead heading into the final stanza.
New Castle’s defense found the end zone on Mars’ next possession, as Mike Wells stepped in front of a Rafael Bartley pass and returned it 27 yards for the score. The conversion run failed, but the ‘Canes had a 33-0 lead with 11:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Wells missed the first two games of the season after breaking his right hand in the team’s scrimmage. The senior saw action at linebacker on defense and carried the ball one time for 9 yards on offense.
“Mike was cleared today,” Cowart said. “He got the hard cast today, so he was certainly limited on the offensive side of the ball. We tried to throw him some passes in pregame to see if he could catch it, and he couldn’t. Then, sure enough, he gets a pick 6 in the game. He cradled that thing with one arm and took it to the house. It was a huge play for us.”
Evan Wright got the Planets on the scoreboard on his team’s next possession, scoring on a 66-yard run. Wright was the workhorse for Mars, carrying the football 27 times for 195 yards.
Owen Ciavarino answered for New Castle, with a 10-yard TD run before Wright closed out the scoring with a 15-yard run.
“Our guys are starting to believe in each other,” Cowart said. “From Week Zero to Week One to now, we’re a better football team.”