Has this Parkway Conference clash lost its luster since 2009 Player of the Year Mike Caputo went down with an ankle injury in Week 1? Yes and no. Ever since the summertime we’ve been looking forward to seeing arguably the two best players in the WPIAL square off, and Mr. High School Sports doesn’t mind sharing his own professional disappointment that it won’t happen. But that doesn’t change the fact that this game still means something. In all probability, the Vikings, in order to even qualify for the 2010 playoffs, must exact revenge on the team that ousted them in the 2009 WPIAL Class AAA Championship.
West Allegheny had a three-game winning streak snapped at No. 1 Montour, but Bob Palko’s team had already clinched a playoff berth and home playoff game prior to that contest, so the Indians are locked into the number two spot in the conference. Dave Vestal’s Vikings ride a three-game win streak of their own into Thursday’s game, but for them the road to the postseason still has one more bridge to cross, and the possibilities are much more voluminous. If Hopewell upsets West A and Central Valley takes care of Ambridge, the Vikings finish third. If Hopewell wins, Central Valley gets upset, and Blackhawk defeats New Castle, that would put the Vikings in the number four spot. If Hopewell loses, it would take upset losses by both Blackhawk and Central Valley to get them in, at which point the Vikings would finish third. The bottom line is, the Vikings and their all-world running back will approach this game with a win-or-go-home mentality. With 204 yards last week Rushel Shell now needs just 91 more to become the first WPIAL player in history to post two seasons of 2,000 rush yards. His career total of 6,165 puts him fourth on the district’s all-time list, not to mention the PIAA’s top 20. Meanwhile, Aaron McKinney has filled Mike Caputo’s cleats admirably out of the Indians’ wildcat offense, racking up 835 yards rushing and 17 total touchdowns in 2010.
WHO: Hopewell Vikings (3-3, 4-4) @ West Allegheny Indians (5-1, 6-2).
WHERE: Joe P. DiMichela Stadium, West Allegheny High School.
WHEN: Kickoff is at 7:05; the game can be seen live on FSN.
LAST WEEK: The Vikings are coming off a 42-20 win over Ambridge in which Rushel Shell, the leading rusher in the WPIAL, carried the ball 21 times for 204 yards and four touchdowns, all of them in the first half. The Indians are coming off a 28-20 loss at Montour, where Aaron McKinney led West Allegheny with 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.
PREDICTION: I’m sure West A doesn’t want to risk another meeting with Hopewell in the playoffs, because the Vikings seem to be peaking at the right time and could turn some heads as long as Shell remains healthy. For that reason the Indians want to put on a show on Senior Night, but on paper, this game means nothing to them, because their postseason fate has already been determined. West Allegheny is a great football team but has nothing to prove until the playoffs start next Friday. Hopewell, on the other hand, is going to play like a football team that does have something to prove, and obviously their running game presents a challenge to a West A defense that just got humbled by another outstanding tailback last week. I’m not saying the Indians don’t want this game, or that it won’t be well played. I’m just saying I think the Vikings want it a little bit more, so I’m going to pick the upset. And if it makes West A fans feel any better, I will also predict this will be the last game their team loses until Heinz Field on Nov. 27. WINNER: HOPEWELL.
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 Louisville, catch us at a special time this week: Saturday morning 7:00-9:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan and 937thefan.com!