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“Mr. High School Sports” LIVE from Hopewell

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

History will be made.

(Boy, I hope I didn’t jinx it right there…)

But anyway, as someone who loves quoting film and television–and as a hockey geek–I can think of no better way to begin this live in-game blog than to borrow the classic line from TV spots for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This Class AAAA-Class AAA non-conference clash certainly has a playoff atmosphere. Both major newspapers are here, radio stations big and small are here, KDKA-TV is here, WPIAL career rushing leader Mike Vernillo is reportedly here, and “Mr. High School Sports” is here at Tony Dorsett Stadium to witness a historic moment for Dorsett’s nephew, Rushel Shell.

Shell, a senior tailback and one of the best high school football players in the country, needs 135 rushing yards against the Mount Lebanon Blue Devils tonight to surpass Vernillo and become the all-time leading rusher in WPIAL history. I’ll be blogging live all night long right up to the moment it happens.

Oh, what the heck…how about another quote? In the words of The Black Eyed Peas, I’ve gotta feeling tonight’s gonna be a good, good night.

How do I know? And how do I know Shell is such a special player? Come on, let’s not kid ourselves…where else in the WPIAL would you see this…?

Shell fan

Shell leads the WPIAL with 747 rushing yards, though not to be overlooked, Lebo boasts senior tailback Luke Hagy, who ranks seventh in the WPIAL entering Friday with 506 yards. Shell was the 2010 Post-Gazette Football Player of the Year, while Hagy was the 2010-11 Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year.

In the bigger picture, the Vikings enter this game with a 1-0 mark in Class AAA Parkway Conference play (beat Montour in Week 2) and 3-0 overall record. The Blue Devils, who beat Hopewell at home last year, do not begin Class AAAA Great Southern Conference play until next week, and enter with a 2-1 record, coming off a 16-0 shutout of visiting Penn Hills last Friday.

Shell finished with 138 yards and two touchdowns against Lebo last year. This is their second career meeting.

By the way, speaking of the bigger picture, before the game begins, some perspective on Shell’s career:

Rushel Shell headshot

(Screen capture credit: KDKA-TV)

*With 7,512 yards on 888 carries (Vernillo had 7,646 yards on 927 carries), Shell ranks seventh on the PIAA career rushing list. If he can keep his current regular season pace of nearly 250 yards per game–and if the Vikings can go deep into the playoffs–he’s got a real shot at breaking the PIAA career mark of 9,027, set by Jeremiah Young of Steelton-Highspire in 2007.

After Shell passes Vernillo, he’ll set his sights tonight on Terrin Ash of Honesdale, who ended fifth all-time in 1994 with 7,749 career yards.

*Shell does not have a realistic chance to break the national record, in case you’re curious. That is currently held by Ken Hall of Sugarland High School (Sugarland, Texas), who ended with 11,232 career yards 1950-53. Hall later enjoyed a brief AFL/NFL career with the Baltimore Colts, Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals, and Houston Oilers, and played Canadian football after graduating from Texas A&M.

However, he could climb the ladder a little bit. Assuming Shell passes Vernillo, he will end the night no lower than 43rd all-time nationally. Shell enters Week 4 48th all-time on the national career rushing list.

*Shell will also attempt his 33rd consecutive 100-yard game. I would argue this is equally as impressive as the WPIAL career mark, if not more. I know it’s cliche to say this, but it’s a team game, and a lot has to go your way to rack up that many 100-yard games, let alone that many in a row.

The national record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games–which Shell can get later this season–is 38, held by Billy Sims (Hooks High School; Hooks, TX). Just to refresh your memory, Sims won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma in 1978–the same year Tony Dorsett led the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl win. Sims had a good NFL career, though relatively unheralded compared to Dorsett’s, with the Detroit Lions.

(Right behind them, at 28 in a row, was a young man from Escambia High School in Pensacola, Florida by the name of Emmitt Smith.)

6:25 – Representatives from the Marines are on hand, and Shell is given a loud round of applause as he is presented with a special jersey to honor his selection to the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl at Phoenix’s Chase Field Jan. 3. Shell is one of 100 invitees, and one of several WPIAL players to receive the honor.

6:30 – Homecoming festivities have begun as the sun tries to peek through the very dark clouds on a misty night here in Beaver County.

More to come soon…

6:40 – A couple game notes…

Mount Lebanon’s leading tackler, linebacker/fullback Tim Briercheck, is reportedly out for tonight’s game. Briercheck came in for Luke Hagy, who suffered a minor leg injury in the second half last week, and played pretty well offensively against Penn Hills. There’s a rumor circulating that he launched himself into the same ignominy as Gus Frerotte and Martin Grammatica by injuring himself during a celebration. But anyway, the absence of Briercheck, really opens things up for Shell and Hopewell’s offense.

As Mike White of the Post-Gazette pointed out on “Vinnie & Cook” earlier today, Shell has reportedly narrowed his college list down to three schools: Pitt, Alabama, and Oregon. Like Mike, I’m personally leaning toward Pitt and Alabama; Oregon never struck me as a likely candidate. The fact he spent so much time visiting Ohio State (before that program got caught scarlet-handed) tells me he wants to stay East Coast.

On a personal note, the two best WPIAL football players I’ve seen in my lifetime are, in no particular order, LaVar Arrington and Terrelle Pryor. I’d be willing to put Shell as high as third. How many other players can you name who took his first-ever varsity carry, in game one of freshman year, for a long touchdown?

As a freshman Shell ran for 1,516 yards, earning MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year honors. He ran for 2,740 as a sophomore, leading Hopewell to a WPIAL Class AAA Final appearance, and carried the Vikings to the second round last year with 2,510.

6:52 – I’m hearing through the grapevine (i.e.: the press box at Tony Dorsett Stadium) that, assuming Shell does break the record, the game will be halted for a very brief presentation when it happens. Because this is, once again, a non-conference game, they want to keep it light.

6:54 – The Blue Devils take the field.

6:56 – The Vikings take the field.

By the way, shout out to John Rubino, Marc Grandinetti, and the good folks at HeyRubino.com, who are covering the game on live streaming video.

Another shout out to the Tribune-Review’s Chris Harlan, who is also here (with Kevin Gorman)…who I bumped into at a wedding last Saturday, believe it or not. Small world.

6:58 – Hopewell wins the toss, and elects to take the ball. Vikings moving left to right on your computer screen or mobile device. Time to get excited!

7:01 – Shell loses five yards on his first attempt, a sweep left. Now he needs 140.

7:03 – Vikings go 3 and out…Shell’s line drive punt is fumbled and recovered by Lebo at its own 22, thanks to a nice tackle by Wiley Belknap.

7:04 – Luke Hagy’s first run, also a sweep left, is much more successful: a 36-yard gain into Hopewell territory.

7:07 – Shell in at linebacker now, as one of his teammates got cut. Per high school rules, if blood is drawn, a player must leave the field until he is cared for.

7:08 – Beautiful job by Tyler Roth to recover a terrible punt snap and get a kick of any kind off. Take two for Shell…

7:10 – Another loss for Shell, minus-2…interesting. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty saves the Vikings this time…and a dumb one, at that. Looked to be Tim White.

7:11 – Shell picks up 7 yards over right tackle.

7:12 – Shell picks up 2 yards over right tackle.

7:15 – Shell strings it out to the right and picks up 5. He then picks up 7 and a 1st down, right up the middle.

7:16 – TOUCHDOWN Hopewell! RUSHEL SHELL takes it in from 18 yards out. 9th rush TD of the year. Stefan Mrkonja’s extra point is good, Hopewell up 7-0, 5:18 left, 1st quarter.

32 NET YARDS, UNOFFICIALLY, FOR RUSHEL SHELL…

7:19 – WPIAL career rushing leader Mike Vernillo, although not recognizable in street clothes, is in the press box.

7:21 – Hopewell back on offense. Shell needs 103 yards.

7:23 – Looks like the Vikings will punt with under 2 minutes left in the 1st. Shell ran once for no gain.

7:25 – Mount Lebanon will let the first quarter end trailing Hopewell 7-0. Once again, 32 net yards for Shell. Needs 103, unofficially, for history.

Hagy, by the way, has 63.

7:29 – Update: Central Catholic leads Woodland Hills 7-0…Damion Jones-Moore recovered a fumble in the end zone.

7:30 – Update: Sto-Rox leads Rochester 6-0. Big showdown there in the Class A Big 7 Conference.

7:33 – Luke Hagy scores on a 15-yard TD run. 8th TD run of the year for Hagy. Dmitri Orfanopolous’ extra point is good. 7-7 ballgame, 7:50 left, 2nd quarter. Great blocking by Wisconsin recruit Arthur Goldberg on that run.

Hagy now has 99 yards. Ironically, he may get 100 tonight before Shell does, though not surprising. Lebo’s line, on both offense and defense, looks super-tough as usual, and the Blue Devils have done a good job shortening the game and trying to keep Shell off the field.

7:36 – Shell gains one tough yard on his first carry of the 2nd quarter.

7:38 – Update: Central now up 14-0 on Woody High after a botched fake punt by Wolverines, and a 20-yd TD run by D. Jones-Moore.

7:39 – Shell catches his first pass of the night along the near sideline for 5 yards, close to a 1st down.

7:41 – TOUCHDOWN RUSHEL SHELL! A 38-yard run on just a dirt-simple sweep to the right, as he followed a block and took off down the Lebo sideline. Extra point is no good, 13-7 Hopewell, 4:52 left, 2nd quarter.

SHELL NOW HAS 72 RUSHING YARDS, UNOFFICIALLY. NEEDS 63 MORE FOR THE RECORD.

7:44 – Fumble on the kickoff recovered by the Vikings…Shell may not be done yet…

7:45 – 12 YARDS FOR SHELL…THEN A 1-YARD LOSS…

7:46 – SHELL FOR 4 MORE YARDS…

7:46 – SHELL FOR 11 AND A FIRST DOWN…

7:48 – SHELL HAS 100.

7:49 – Timeout Hopewell, its first. 59 seconds left in the half, Vikings up 13-7.

Shell, by the way, now unofficially has 33 straight 100-yard games, tying for second longest such streak all-time. Brad Hocker of Archie High School (Archie, Missouri) also had 33 in a row.

7:52 – Homerun pass intended for Shell in the end zone picked off by Tyler Roth…nice play.

7:53 – Timeout Lebo, its first. 34 seconds till the half. Blue Devils out to their own 40.

7:54 – Update: Keystone Oaks 7, South Allegheny 0, 1st quarter.

Luke Hagy with 125 yards now, unofficially. Trib is reporting Shell has only 96. Will confirm at half.

7:58 – A sack on Mount Lebanon QB Pat Goff in Hopewell territory ends the first half. Hopewell 13, Mount Lebanon 7.

I am told Shell needs 36 more yards for the record, which would put his yardage total at 99.

Luke Hagy, unofficially, had 149 rushing yards, not to mention Lebo’s lone first-half touchdown.

8:02 – Updates:

Knoch 7, Fox Chapel 0 (end 1st)

Seneca Valley 7, McKeesport 0 (end 1st)

Connellsville 7, Latrobe 0 (1st)

Gateway, Penn-Trafford scoreless (end 1st)

Shaler 14 Norh Hills 7 (2nd)

Greensburg-Salem 21 Ringgold 14 (1st half)

Highlands 7, Kittanning 0 (1st)

Keystone Oaks 14, South Allegheny 0 (2nd)

Meanwhile, I’m being quoted all kinds of numbers for Shell; like I said, the most recent one was 99. Bottom line is, Shell is less than 40 yards away from history.

8:06 – Updates:

Central leads Woody High 17-0 at half; 39-yd FG by Mitch Maczura

Penn Hills leads Plum 7-0 in the 1st half; Indians seeking first win

8:11 – Updates:

Rochester now up 13-12 on Sto-Rox late 1st half

Greensburg CC 20 Yough 0 (end 1st)

Highlands and Kittanning tied 7-7 (2nd)

Penn-Trafford 10 Gateway 0 (8:00 left 2nd)

Beaver Falls 21 Waynesburg 0 (1st half)

8:14 – Update: Keystone Oaks 21 South Allegheny 0 (2nd)

8:18 – Update: Gators on the board; Gateway now trails P-T 10-6 (5:00 left 2nd)

Halftime score last year was 10-0 Penn-Trafford. Gateway won 35-10.

Sto-Rox has taken an 18-13 lead over Rochester in the 1st half

8:21 – Update: Seneca up 10-0 on McKeesport, under 5 min. left in half

Sto-Rox and Rochester now at halftime with Vikings up 18-13.

8:24 – Second half almost set to begin…Lebo will get the ball to start. Once again, I have Rushel Shell at 100 on the nose, others have him just shy of that, but at any rate, the record is within reach (<40 yards away). Hopewell kicking right to left on your computer screen or mobile device.

Impressive kickoff return by Hagy, bouncing off bodies in succession for 30 yards out near midfield.

8:26 – Updates: Connellsville 10, Latrobe 0 (2nd)…Knoch 24, Fox Chapel 0 (2nd)

8:27 – Interception by Wiley Belknap along near sideline. Shell back onto the field…

8:28 – RUSHEL SHELL IS NOW THE ALL-TIME LEADING RUSHER IN WPIAL HISTORY, THANKS TO A 54-YARD GAIN.

8:30 – Touchdown Hopewell, on a 13-yard QB sneak by Nolan Harmatto. Nate Bowden’s extra point is good. Shell being congratulated by his teammates. He actually lost yardage on the very next play, but the record is safely in tow.

Hopewell 20, Lebo 7, 10:37 left, 3rd quarter.

I have Shell with 147 yards so far, unofficially. Once again, he has the record (needed 135 tonight), and he now officially has 33 straight 100-yard games.

8:34 – Update: Aliquippa leading Freedom 53-6 at the half. Central Valley leading Trinity 35-6 at half.

8:35 – Luke Hagy with a 25-yard touchdown run up the near side, lowering his head into the end zone for his second score of the night, 9th of the year. He’s putting on quite a show of his own tonight. Orfanopolous’ extra point is good, Lebo now trails 20-14, 8:39 left, 3rd quarter.

Shell’s current career yardage is being quoted as 7,668 going into the next drive.

8:37 – Updates:

Highlands 10 Kittanning 7 (half)

Seneca Valley 20 McKeesport 0 (late 1st half)

Jeannette 26 Southmoreland 0 (half)

8:39 – Shell is now over 150 rush yards for the night.

By the way, the game was not stopped after the record-setting carry.

8:41 – Timeout Hopewell, its first of the half.

Moments later, Hopewell tried the hook-and-lateral–with Shell as the intended receiver of the lateral–but Harmatto’s pass was broken up. Man, that would’ve been cool to see…and Shell had all kinds of room.

8:46 – Lost in the allure of history is the fact that Lebo has the ball and momentum, down just 20-14 with 5 minutes left in the 3rd, and Hagy is nearing 200 yards.

8:48 – Hagy now over 200; unofficially, I have 204 for him.

8:52 – Timeout Lebo, its first. 4th and long in Hopewell territory, 1:40 left, 3rd quarter…Blue Devils trail 20-14.

Updates: North Catholic leads Riverview 7-0 at half

Ringgold, in a barn-burner, holding onto a 28-20 lead over Salem in the 2nd half

8:53 – Nice pass breakup by Nolan Harmatto, saving a 1st down. Hopewell gets the ball back on downs, Shell back onto the field with over 150 yards thus far.

8:54 – Shell walking off the field slowly after a 1-yard loss. Might have taken a helmet to the leg. Being looked at by Hopewell AD/head trainer Don Short.

8:56 – End of the 3rd quarter. Hopewell 20, Mount Lebanon 14. Interesting to see if they give Shell a chance to pad his record.

8:57 – Updates:

28-yd TD rec. by Shakim Alonzo; Woody High cuts Central Catholic’s lead to 17-7 (3rd)

Indiana 23, Mars 8 (half)

Aliquippa 53, Freedom 7 (3rd)

9:00 – Nate Bowden the punter for Hopewell in lieu of Shell. Looks to be the right thigh bugging Shell. He’s standing under his own power, talking to Mr. Short.

9:02 – Mount Lebanon is in Hopewell territory early in the 4th, and Hagy has strapped the Blue Devils to his back. Both teams have run for most of the night. A very physical game.

Hopewell’s defensive line looks positively winded as Hagy carries for another 5…

9:05 – A touchdown run on a naked bootleg by Goff is wiped out by an obvious–and seemingly unnecessary–holding infraction by Troy Apke.

9:06 – Mount Lebanon, on the very next play, ties the game 20-20 on a 23-yard TD run by Hagy. He’s got the hat trick, so to speak, and now has 10 rush TD’s. But Wiley Belknap gets a piece of the extra point, which glances off the right upright. 7:45 left in regulation.

9:08 – Updates:

Burrell 12 Freeport 10 (half)

Jones-Moore 42-yd TD run after fumbled punt…24-7 Central Catholic leads Woody High, 4th quarter.

9:09 – Here’s a moment of Zen…Luke Hagy chasing down Rushel Shell (Shell gained 3 yards on the play, running out of bounds).

9:10 – Update: Sto-Rox 26 Rochester 20 (start of 4th).

By the way, Hagy is actually being recruited as a DB, even with his offensive skills. He’s looking possibly Ivy League, but will also visit Pitt this weekend.

9:12 – Unofficially Shell now has 170. Vikings driving inside the red zone, game still tied at 20.

9:13 – Update: Rochester 27, Sto-Rox 26 in the 4th. Man, it’s like Foreman and Ali over there…

Meanwhile, Laurel Highlands leads Uniontown 21-13 in the 4th.

9:16 – Hopewell fumbles the snap at the 1, but recovers at its 2. 4th and goal, 3:20 left…

9:17 – Touchdown Hopewell, as Shell now has his own “H.T.!” He would not be denied, as he powered his way in over right tackle from 2 yards out. Bowden, despite getting run into, kicks the all-important extra point. 27-20 Hopewell, 3:13 left. Shell now has 12 TD’s on the year, 11 on the ground.

Shell now with 179 rushing yards unofficially.

9:20 – Hagy is stripped, and Nolan Harmatto recovers. Hopewell in control, 27-20, 2:51 left in regulation.

9:22 – Lebo takes its second timeout with 2:13 left. Shell now up to 191 by my count.

9:23 – Lebo takes its final timeout as Shell picks up 6.

9:24 – Updates: P-T leading Gateway 13-6 in 4th…Salem and Ringgold tied 28-28 late…

9:25 – Shell makes the chains…and hits 202 yards unofficially.

Final score: Hopewell 27, Mount Lebanon 20. Rushel Shell is the WPIAL’s all-time rushing leader.

Final numbers: 32 carries for both Luke Hagy and Rushell Shell; Shell ends officially with 205 yards, Hagy with 264.

Shell was still non-committal on his college choice when asked by reporters.

Rushel Shell is scheduled to appear on “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” Saturday at around 8:40 A.M. on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan…with hopefully a word from head coach Dave Vestal as well.

In the meantime, we also plan to have audio highlights from Shell’s post-game press scrum on the field.

Tune into the 11:00 P.M. newscast on KDKA-TV for more on this historic night at Tony Dorsett Stadium, and be sure to revisit the “Mr. High School Sports” blog on 937thefan.com for more coverage on Sunday.

Check out KDKA.com for all of tonight’s Week 4 scores.

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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