ADAMS TWP — As Jason Lozzi walked off the field, the Planets’ cheerleaders serenaded him with “Happy Birthday.”
Lozzi’s best present was the one he gave the Mars football team.
The senior returned an interception 53 yards for a touchdown and also rumbled in from the 8 for a score to help the Planets to a 38-21 win over Elizabeth Forward in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs at the Mars Athletic Complex Friday night.
“I knew I had to drop (into coverage) and luckily he just threw it right to me,” Lozzi said of his interception of Elizabeth Forward quarterback JaQuan Davidson that swung the momentum in the second quarter. “I just made a play, had great blocking. It was just a big play and I was happy to make it for the team.”
Lozzi has been the unsung hero for Mars this season as bruising running back Josh Schultheis has received a great deal of attention.
Schultheis had 100 yards on 19 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns, but Lozzi was every bit as effective with 88 yards on 11 carries.
With a stocky 6-foot, 200-pound build, Lozzi has surprising speed, quickness and shiftiness in the open field.
“Teams spy on Josh because, obviously, he’s a great running back,” Lozzi said. “I’m just the weapon off of him. The line is doing a great job this year, and I can’t thank them enough.
“As a running back, you have to be shifty and have moves,” Lozzi added, smiling.
Mars had to do some shifty maneuvering to pull this game out.
After taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Elizabeth Forward stormed back with a pair of touchdowns. Davidson scored the first on a quarterback draw from the 3 and Anthony Brown caught a 5-yard pass from Matthew Bernadowski on a wide receiver reverse pass.
The extra point was blocked after the second Warriors’ score and the Planets led 14-13.
Lozzi’s interception return stomped out that momentum and sent the Planets into halftime up 21-13.
That lead was short-lived as Elizabeth Forward marched 80 yards in nine plays and consumed 5:20 off the clock to start the second half. Davidson weaved his way in from the 4 and a two-point conversion tied the game at 21-21.
Mars (9-1) adjusted and scored the next 17 points to secure the win.
“They have some athletes,” said Mars coach Scott Heinauer. “(Davidson’s) a kid you obviously have to keep under control. He runs their offense. He’s the guy you have to stop.”
The Planets did a decent job hemming Davidson in. The University of Pittsburgh recruit finished 9-of-23 passing for 154 yards and added 80 yards rushing on 23 carries.
Mars limited Warriors’ running back Jalen French to 36 yards on 11 carries.
Matt White kicked a 23-yard field goal to make it a three-score game with 5:49 remaining. He also had six touchbacks on kickoffs, keeping the Warriors’ excellent return game neutered.
“Matt White did an excellent job,” Heinauer said. “All but one kickoff into the end zone. That’s unbelievable. That was a big factor. That’s something all teams don’t have. He came through. He kicked a field goal and made all his extra points. I can’t say enough about Matty.”
Mars will now face Central Valley, a 40-7 winner over Belle Vernon, in the second round next Friday.
“When you get into the playoffs, all teams are good,” Heinauer said. “There are no easy games. Next week won’t be easy, either. They get tougher as you go.”