By Matt Popchock


Last year “Mr. High School Sports” set aside some time and space each week to select and salute the top high school football player from the previous weekend. This year he’s opening things up a bit. Starting with the first week of WPIAL action, “Mr. High School Sports” will recognize his favorite performances in all four classifications, plus the City League.

We’ve got a lot of great efforts here from Class of ’12 running backs, a milestone victory for one Class A program, and the first of many updates to come on Rushel Shell’s pursuit of prep football immortality. Here are our Athletes of the Week for Week 1:


Manny Simpson/Zach Emerick, Penn-Trafford: Simpson, a senior tailback, set a tone for his 2011 campaign, as did Emerick, his senior quarterback. Emerick completed all ten of his attempts for 204 yards and two first-half touchdowns to power the Warriors to an impressive 42-12 rout of visiting Peters Township in Quad-A non-conference action. Emerick didn’t turn the ball over, and finished with a passer efficiency rating of 177.0. Simpson got the party started with a three-yard TD run, and his 51-yard scoring sprint put the PIAA mercy rule into effect before halftime. He finished with three TD’s and, oddly enough, 204 yards on just ten carries.


Luke Hagy, Mount Lebanon: The senior tailback and 2010-11 Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year did what he does best this past Friday: something different. Hagy saw some time at quarterback, as he scored all five of the Blue Devils’ touchdowns, including the last on a 75-yard run, to lead Lebo to a 34-7 mastery of host Pine-Richland in Quad-A non-conference action. He ended the night with 247 yards rushing on 21 carries, and he now owns the program records for career rush yards (3,135) and rush TD’s (50).

Rushel Shell

(Screen capture credit: KDKA-TV)

Hopewell senior tailback Rushel Shell is on pace to set the WPIAL career rushing yardage record. Here’s the latest:

Last Friday: 24 carries, 147 yards (1 TD) in 14-7 win vs. Belle Vernon
This Friday: vs. Montour, 7:00 PM

Updated all-time WPIAL rushing list (senior season in parentheses):
1. Mike Vernillo, Fort Cherry (’99): 7,646 yds
2. Rushel Shell, Hopewell (’11): 6,913 yds
Updated all-time PIAA rushing list:
9. Jon Veach, Mount Carmel (’00): 7,103 yds
10. Jerry Marks, Southern Columbia (’87): 7,075 yds
11. Rushel Shell, Hopewell (’11): 6,913 yds
12. Jesse Jones, Tyrone Area (’99): 6,911 yds
13. Darrell Blackman, Williamsport (’02): 6,804 yds


Julian Durden, Montour: There was some message-sending by last year’s WPIAL Class AAA runner-up and Parkway Conference champion at Chartiers Valley in Week 1, and the Spartans’ senior tailback delivered in a big way. Durden was the second-leading rusher in the district Friday night, racking up 231 yards on 15 carries, and scoring four times in Montour’s 49-14 non-conference romp over the Colts. He ran for three TD’s, including a 50- and 80-yarder, and caught one of Dillon Buechel’s three touchdown passes from 33 yards out, his only reception of the night.


Jason Lozzi, Mars: Will the Planets still be able to pound opponents into submission with their running game? The new starting tailback answered that question, at least temporarily, by spoiling Mark Washington’s debut as Moon head coach. The sophomore ran 28 times for 153 yards and scored on a pair of goal-line plunges, including what proved to the game-winning TD in the third quarter of a 26-8 non-conference win over the visiting Tigers.


Dakota Datz, Southmoreland: The Scotties’ junior quarterback single-handedly got their quest to end their long playoff drought off on the right foot with a career night at Brownsville this past Friday. In a wild 48-28 victory over the Falcons in Interstate Conference play, Datz carried 13 times for a game-high 148 yards, including a game-winning 57-yard score, and he also connected on 11 of his 18 passes for 265 yards and four more TD’s. Over half his yardage in the air came on scoring passes, including first-half bombs of 46 and 62.


Cole Bush, Burrell: The latest edition of this neighborhood rivalry was everything a rivalry game ought to be, but the junior slotback made sure it didn’t get out of hand for the Buccaneers with his overtime heroics. Bush’s two-yard scoring run on his 29th carry of the game in the first OT session capped off a 127-yard effort in a 23-16 triumph over the host Vikings in AA-versus-AAA non-conference action.


Tanner Garry, Fort Cherry: Although Western Beaver made history this past Saturday–its Week 1 non-conference contest ended up being the highest-scoring game in program history–the Rangers made the history that really counted. Their senior quarterback completed 11 of his 13 attempts for 191 yards, three touchdowns to Ryan Baribad, and just one interception. Garry also kicked three extra points and contributed a two-point run to Fort Cherry’s 55-40 marathon victory, making it the 300th in program history. Fort Cherry is the 19th Class A team to hit that mark.


Bobby Gustine, Bishop Canevin: Head coach Bob Jacoby made the bold decision to line up the dangerous senior receiver in the backfield, and it paid rich dividends for the Crusaders, who made a resounding statement in their chase for another Eastern Conference crown. Canevin was already playing the ideal road game, up 13-0 over Avonworth in the third quarter, when Gustine ripped off a back-breaking 82-yard touchdown run. He finished with 131 yards on the ground on ten carries, also catching two passes for 44 yards and making a pair of solo tackles.


Dontae Forte, University Prep: The new program, which resulted from the Peabody-Schenley merger, traveled up to Butler County Saturday afternoon for its first game ever, and it was this young man who helped deliver its first win. Forte got the new team on the board with a 33-yard pick-six early on, then threw a 13-yard TD pass to Myles Caitlyn, then gave his team some insurance with a 23-yard scoring run in the third quarter of a 20-6 decision over the Summit Academy (Class AA).

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