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"Mr. High School Sports" – Quick Outs: Week 6 Edition

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After an unbelievable performance in enemy territory Rushel Shell of Hopewell became Beaver County’s all-time rushing king last Friday.  Where does he rate among western Pennsylvania’s all-time greats?  I have an opinion, and I’m going to share it…and I would encourage you to do the same by commenting on this post.  In the meantime, I also have some thoughts on how good Clairton is, which Quad-A programs are improving, and whether a certain Double-A school can end a lifelong playoff drought.  Here are my “Quick Outs” for Week 6 of the WPIAL football season:

Hopewell running back Rushel Shell picks up ground against Blackhawk defender Josh Desmond in a game earlier this season. a junior, Shell has moved into fifth place on the WPIAL's all-time rushing list with 5,659 yards.

(Courtesy of Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette)

*The two best high school football players I’ve ever seen come out of the WPIAL are, in no particular order, LaVar Arrington of North Hills and Terrelle Pryor of Jeannette.  Which of those two was better?  As far as I’m concerned, flip a coin.  I’m not ready to put Rushel Shell of Hopewell, who is now the leading rusher in Beaver County history, alongside those two, because he hasn’t helped his team win a district or state championship (yet), and, for better or worse, that’s how players of his, Arrington’s, and Pryor’s caliber tend to be judged.  But I do think it’s fair to put Shell in the top ten in WPIAL history.  He can take over a game just the same as the other two did; he certainly did that last Friday.  That wasn’t Little Sisters of the Poor he got 392 yards against…it was New Castle, a competitive Class AAA football team.  Clearly it was not his fault that Hopewell fell short in last year’s WPIAL Final, and the Vikings wouldn’t even have been there if not for Shell.  And if Hopewell is able to do the unlikely and grab a playoff spot after a terrible start to the 2010 season, much less return to Heinz Field, it will be largely because of him.  I can’t think of many players in recent history who could do all that Shell has done to this point.  Where do you think Shell belongs on the list of WPIAL all-time greats?  Feel free to share your thoughts below.

John Ruane and Penn-Trafford

(Courtesy of Heffran Sports Imaging and the MSA Sports Network)

*Penn-Trafford gave McKeesport quite a scare at Weigle-Schaffer Memorial Stadium last Friday before ultimately losing in overtime.  However, this year might the beginning of a new beginning for the Warriors’ program.  Looking at the Foothills Conference standings they are 2-2 in conference play and 3-3 overall, sitting in the fourth and final playoff position entering a Week 7 meeting with Latrobe that might ultimately decide whether or not each team qualifies for the postseason.  But don’t let the modest record fool you, because first-year head coach and former Gateway assistant John Ruane seems to have those kids playing a more competitive brand of football, as evidenced by what they did at McKeesport.  In addition, speaking of Gateway, Penn-Trafford gave them a game in Week 4 before the Gators erupted all over them in the second half, and in the season opener, the Warriors pulled off an impressive non-conference upset of Peters Township, another up-and-coming program.  Keep your eye on a pair of juniors–quarterback Zach Emerick and running back Manny Simpson, an underrated player who is one of the top five rushers in Quad-A.  I can’t promise great results this season, but if those two continue to grow, and their teammates do the same, don’t be surprised if the Warriors turn a corner next season.

*A caller to last Saturday’s edition of The Post-Gazette High School Football show who was a Clairton alumnus wondered if this year’s Bears team would beat the Class AAAA Connellsville Falcons in a game, even though, in all reality, no Quad-A school would ever be allowed to play a Single-A school.  Don Rebel and Mike White weren’t quite sure, but neither of them thought it was outside the realm of possibility.  I, on the other hand, believe, in a fantasy world, Clairton would beat the Falcons in a very close game.  I am not trying to throw an already downtrodden program under the bus.  I’m just saying, I think Clairton, the way that team is currently built, is that good.  Connellsville currently owns the WPIAL’s longest active losing streak at 32 games, and I do not take pleasure in saying that.  It’s disappointing to see that a once-proud program that has won over 500 games and produced such memorable players as Marcus Furman has been brought to this, because I suspect the WPIAL would be better off if programs like this one were successful.  Second-year coach Jeff Immel is working hard to turn the program around, and time will tell if he’s the guy who can do it, but considering the Falcons continue to be blown out on an almost regular basis, he’s certainly not off to the start he wanted.

Jordan Maddox

(File photo courtesy of Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

*The list of injured superstars grew by one in Week 6.  In what had to be the lowlight of our Game of the Week, Keystone Oaks tailback Jordan Maddox injured his knee in the second half of the Golden Eagles’ loss at South Fayette and is out indefinitely.  KO head coach Nick Kamberis believes it only to be a sprain, but Maddox’s status for Week 7 is still up in the air, and his absence could really throw a monkey wrench in their powerful offensive machine–and their season–if he is out for an extended period.  Having Maddox in the backfield meant McCann could line up at quarterback in the team’s wildcat offense, but with Maddox out, that would mean more pressure on McCann, who would be more restricted to the running back position, and it could mean inserting Matt Buckley at QB, which they did last week.  McCann can handle that pressure, but with difficult games against Steel Valley and Seton-LaSalle on the horizon, not having Maddox to spell him could make it a lot more difficult for the Eagles to finish strong and/or make another lengthy playoff run.

*Football may be the ultimate team game, but there are still examples of one player’s presence or absence making a difference.  I believe that was the case for Central Valley, which had to play its inaugural homecoming game versus Class AAA No. 1 Montour without starting quarterback Curtis Lewis, who was ruled academically ineligible.  Not that the Spartans’ 12-7 victory wasn’t hard-earned, and not to make excuses for the host Warriors, but I can’t help wondering how differently that game might have turned out if Lewis had played, considering the Warriors’ defense turned in another very commendable effort.  School comes first, and as heavy as Mark Lyons’ heart might have been, I applaud him, the program, and the school for doing the right thing and not trying to give star athletes the kind of breaks they sometimes get.  Hopefully, whatever the issue was, it’s lesson learned for the quarterback and he returns this week, because clearly he is a presence on the football field for Central Valley.  Meanwhile, Coach Lyons said afterward he takes no solace in a moral victory, but all things considered, maybe he should take just a little bit from this one.

Coach Dan Knause at Cornell High School football practice on Tuesday, October 4, 2010. Cornell is 5-0 this season.

(Courtesy of Rebecca Droke, Post-Gazette)

*The surprising Cornell Raiders are still one of just three undefeated teams in Class A, and this approaching Friday is their “Super Bowl,” a Big 7 road date with No. 2 Rochester, one of the other two perfect squads.  History is not on the Raiders’ side, nor is the simple fact that this is Rochester we’re talking about.  This might not be a pleasant experience for Cornell…though some, not including me, thought the Rams would whip Sto-Rox without any trouble, and the Vikings nearly pulled that one out.  But regardless of how this game might turn out, I’m still looking forward to it, because it’s the ultimate test for the new-look Raiders.  And even if they lose this game, let alone their two other remaining games, I still believe this has been one of the best seasons in program history just because of how drastically things have changed.  Never mind being undefeated or chasing one of the top seeds, the simple notion that Cornell will make the playoffs, period, is one I’m sure not many outside their locker room thought possible going into this season when you look back at all the losing they’ve had to endure recently.  If I could give out coach-of-the-year awards in each class, I’d have a hard time not giving one to Dan Knause.  So regardless of what happens Friday, I urge the people of Coraopolis to keep their chins up, and I wish both teams the best of luck.

*It’s been a year of emotional ups and downs for Nick Milchovich at Peters Township.  In Week 5 the Indians took a giant step forward by beating Bethel Park, one of the winningest Quad-A programs of the past decade.  Last Friday, however, they couldn’t quite take the next step, as they bowed to another traditional powerhouse, Upper St. Clair.  The difference between the two games is quite simple.  Against Bethel Park, the Indians made big plays when they had to, many of them by quarterback Austin Hancock.  Against USC, Peters did not make big plays when it had to, whereas the Panthers, as they so often have under Jim Render, made plenty.  But give credit to Peters for making USC work for this win; Hancock scrambled for 115 yards, and the Indians seemed to play better as the game went on.  Losing Hancock to graduation will be tough, but between last year’s hot start and this year’s signature win over the Hawks, I think Milchovich is onto something.  Just as I mentioned Penn-Trafford as one of the Quad-A programs that may be on the way up, I think you can put Peters Township on that list as well.

Deer Lakes*Could it be?  Is this the “Year of the Lancers?”  After forty years will Deer Lakes finally make its first WPIAL Football Playoff appearance in school history?  Mr. High School Sports’ magic 8-ball says all signs point to yes.  Right now things are looking good for Todd Hazlett and his boys, who are coming off a mercy-rule victory over West Shamokin that gave them a three-game win streak, the first for DL since 2003.  The Lancers are currently tied with Freeport for second place in the Allegheny Conference at 3-1 and 4-2 overall.  Now comes the tricky part: Deer Lakes faces the Yellowjackets in Week 7, followed by Burrell and Shady Side Academy.  Those three remaining opponents currently sit third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, in the conference, and they have a combined overall record of 10-8.  Yes, folks, the Lancers can pull this off.  If they win just one of their last three, it guarantees a winning section mark, and saves them the trouble of scoreboard-watching.  That should be enough to get them in.  If DL can minimize turnovers and continue running the ball effectively with its wing-T offense, those four decades of frustration will be put to rest.

For more of the latest news and views on and off the gridiron, be sure to check out The Post-Gazette High School Football Show Presented by First Commonwealth Bank with the Post-Gazette’s Mike White and MSA’s Don Rebel.  Due to Pitt’s noon kickoff against Syracuse, catch us at a special time this week: Saturday morning 7:00-9:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!