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“Mr. High School Sports” – Week 4 Preview

Rushel Shell

Hopewell’s Rushel Shell is on pace to break the WPIAL career rushing record, held by Fort Cherry’s Mike Vernillo since 1999, on Friday night. (Screen capture credit: KDKA-TV)

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

Our mothers always told us not to run in the house. But Toni Zuccaro won’t mind if her son runs in his Uncle Tony’s house on Friday.

If Ms. Zuccaro’s son, Hopewell senior tailback Rushel Shell, obliges for at least 135 yards, neither she, nor the hundreds of other guests in Tony’s house, will meet him with any consternation.

That’s because he needs those 135 yards against Mount Lebanon Friday to become the WPIAL’s career rushing leader.

Be sure to check the “Mr. High School Sports” blog at 937thefan.com special coverage from Hopewell High School of Shell’s pursuit of western PA football history, beginning before the Vikings and Blue Devils kick off at 7:00.

Meanwhile, a full slate of big Week 4 games across the WPIAL will begin around that time, so before we expound upon Shell’s great moment, Mr. High School Sports will begin his preview with a closer look at the “UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Game of the Week,” a key battle for conference supremacy in Quad-A:

GAME OF THE WEEK:

PITTSBURGH CENTRAL CATHOLIC VIKINGS (1-0, 3-0) AT WOODLAND HILLS WOLVERINES (1-0, 3-0)

(CLASS AAAA, BIG EAST CONFERENCE)

THE WOLVARENA, TURTLE CREEK

Pre-game coverage with MSA Sports’ Don Rebel begins at 6:00 on 93.7 The Fan; kickoff at 7:00 with Lanny Frattare on play-by-play, Bob Orkwis on color commentary

KEY MATCHUP:

Pittsburgh Central Catholic WR/DB Anthony Nixon vs. Woodland Hills WR Shakim Alonzo

Alonzo stands at 6’5″ and has racked up 296 yards, while hauling in five touchdown passes. If quarterback Pat Menifee throws the ball in his general direction, he has the vertical ability to pull it down under duress, and the cutback ability to make you pay if you don’t wrap him up in the open field. Nixon is fast and closes on the ball very well, and he has proven he can provide blanket coverage of any receiver he opposes. This individual opponent will be particularly tough. In addition, Nixon is the top target of quarterback Perry Hills, and one of the top receivers in Quad-A with 282 yards and four TD’s on 14 catches. If those two can stay on the same page, it’ll stretch the Wolverines’ defense and open things up for Central’s running game.

PITTSBURGH CENTRAL CATHOLIC’S KEYS TO VICTORY:

1. The Moore, the merrier. A healthy Damion Jones-Moore is once again among the WPIAL’s rushing leaders. He remains the heartbeat of Central’s offense.

2. A balanced attack. The Divison I-caliber athleticism of the Wolverines extends to both sides of the ball. Like we said, if the Vikings get into a rhythm with their passing game, it could be a long night for the home team.

3. Watch Menifee. We’ve seen him throw the deep ball, the short ball, and run like mad on a fake punt. Central needs to keep him between the hashes and rough him up.

WOODLAND HILLS’ KEYS TO VICTORY:

1. Less from Moore. The only thing that could slow down the 2010 Vikings was a defense that could shut down Jones-Moore. The 2011 Vikings don’t appear much different in that respect.

2. Fast start. The last time we were at The Wolvarena, an early scoring drive seemed to give the home team all the momentum it needed. If the Wolverines strike the first blow, this game could get real interesting.

3. The D-train. Tailback Jamiere Dutruielle has made an early splash as a first-year starter. With a great shut-down DB like Nixon on the field, it’s important Woody High runs the ball well.

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH:

NON-CONFERENCE:

Mount Lebanon (2-1) at Hopewell (3-0) (7:00) - Last year Rushel Shell picked up 138 yards on 24 carries, scoring twice in a loss at Mount Lebanon Stadium. Assuming he passes Mike Vernillo, he’ll move into sixth on the PIAA’s all-time rushing list. Number five is currently Terrin Ash, who ran for 7,749 yards while playing for Honesdale 1991-94. Shell is 1,515 yards away from the state record, held by Jeremiah Young of Steelton-Highspire since 2007. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Luke Hagy is doing fine after taking a helmet to the leg last week, and he’s among the WPIAL’s top ten in rushing and scoring with 506 yards and seven TD’s.

Upper St. Clair (2-1) at West Allegheny (2-1) (7:00) - This collision of Class AAAA versus Class AAA should prove interesting because the Panthers are going to want to enter Great Southern play next week with some momentum after a tough loss at N.A. last week, and also because both these teams have run unconventional offenses in the past. Bob Palko is a big fan of the wildcat, and Mr. High School Sports is an equally big fan of USC’s Dakota Conwell, a dual-threat QB who can give this young defense fits.

CLASS A:

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

Riverview (2-0, 2-1) at North Catholic (2-1, 2-1) (7:30) - The two most important players in this battle of playoff hopefuls are receivers, though, in fairness, one is actually a receiver-turned-quarterback. Corey Bickert has registered four touchdowns and 32 total points for the Raiders, and has averaged 23.8 yards per catch. Brandt Gribbin, the ex-flanker in his first year as starting QB for the Trojans, has made a very smooth transition, completing over 65% of his passes for 445 yards and six TD’s.

BIG 7 CONFERENCE:

Rochester (1-0, 3-0) at Sto-Rox (1-0, 3-0) (7:00) - Nobody gave the Vikings much of a chance to win this game last year simply because of the name on the opponent’s jersey, but after seeing the Vikings push the Rams to their limit, and seeing the Rams turn over integral parts of their roster, “Mr. High School Sports” is convinced this could be Sto-Rox’s year. If Rochester is to survive, it will have to power up with De’Andre Moon, a force at linebacker, and the focal point of its offense with 364 rushing yards and nine TD’s, the third-most in the WPIAL. The Vikings’ offense boasts a two-headed monster in Josh Beverly, who has racked up 461 yards and eight TD’s on the ground, and Lenny Williams, one of the top passers in the district with 481 yards and six touchdowns. But it’ll be up to their defense and its D-1 talent to set a physical tempo.

CLASS AA:

CENTURY CONFERENCE:

Keystone Oaks (1-0, 2-1) at South Allegheny (0-1, 1-2) (7:30) - One of the more highly-touted players in the WPIAL matches up against one of the more under-appreciated ones. Matt Buckley leads the Golden Eagles and ranks fourth in the district with 619 passing yards, having tossed six touchdowns. Tight end and Penn State recruit Jesse James brings toughness to the Wildcats, who will need it in buckets against KO tailback Dale Klobichur, who has also been one of the top under-the-radar players in western Pennsylvania.

MIDWESTERN CONFERENCE:

Ellwood City (2-0, 3-0) at Beaver (3-0, 3-0) (7:30 Sat.) - Not many people were talking about the Bobcats in August, but they are now that they have opened the season with three shutouts in a row. The Wolverines know what that feels like; it wasn’t long ago they were held off the scoreboard on a regular basis, but the program has continued its turnaround with nearly 150 points in its first three outings this year. Ellwood’s Kyle Crawford ranks eighth in the WPIAL with 489 rush yards and second in scoring with 11 TD’s. Beaver quarterback Christian Herstine has been an effective playmaker himself, amassing 324 yards and five scores.

CLASS AAA:

KEYSTONE CONFERENCE:

Ringgold (1-0, 2-1) at Greensburg-Salem (1-0, 3-0) (7:00) - Both these teams have helped bring credibility to a conference that didn’t have a lot of it prior to the WPIAL’s latest biennial realignment. Quad Law, one of Mr. High School Sports’ favorite WPIAL football names, leads the Rams and ranks sixth in the district with 507 rushing yards, averaging almost 15 yards a pop, and Michael Kizzie, one of the WPIAL scoring leaders, is also eating up hash marks with 320 rushing yards and eight TD’s. The x-factor could be Salem QB Josh Falatovich, who has shown great accuracy early in the season.

GREATER ALLEGHENY CONFERENCE:

Mars (1-0, 3-0) at Indiana (1-0, 3-0) (7:30) - Both these teams are coming off very difficult wins last week, as the Little Indians came from behind to beat Highlands, and the Planets needed overtime to beat a Hampton team thought to be down this year. If Mars doesn’t shake out those cobwebs from last week, it could have a dickens of a time keeping up on the scoreboard with this offense, led by Logan Weaver, one of the top dual-threat QB’s in the classification. Weaver has thrown for 289 yards and seven touchdowns since transferring from Punxsutawney.

CLASS AAAA:

NORTHERN SEVEN CONFERENCE:

Erie McDowell (1-0, 3-0) at North Allegheny (1-0, 3-0) (7:00) - It’s an important battle for long-term playoff positioning, and it’s also an opportunity for the Trojans, who have played some inspired football since becoming a full-fledged WPIAL member in that sport, to build some credibility. Tailback/wildcat QB Greg Garmon, one of the top recruits in Pennsylvania and the No. 80 D-1 prospect in America according to MaxPreps, leads McDowell’s offense while deciding between Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, UNC, or Pitt. On the other hand, it’s taken a village to power N.A.’s revamped running game, but that offensive line sure makes it easy for them, and for new quarterback Mack Leftwich, one of the top ten passers in the WPIAL with 483 yards and five TD’s.

FOOTHILLS CONFERENCE:

Gateway (1-0, 3-0) at Penn-Trafford (1-0, 3-0) (7:30) - The Warriors haven’t won a conference crown since 2002, and in Week 4 they have as giant an opportunity as they will see all season to step closer to that elusive title. With 636 yards and eight touchdowns, Manny Simpson of Penn-Trafford is the third-leading rusher in the WPIAL, and quarterback Zach Emerick has come into his own, ranking sixth in the WPIAL with 619 yards and five TD’s. If running backs Darin Franklin and Graham Davis still aren’t 100 percent for the Gators, that puts pressure on quarterback Tom Woodson to carry the offense with his arm and his legs. He’s thrown for 464 yards and five TD’s, and can make big plays by tucking and running as well. In the meantime, Gateway needs to cut down its penalties, and the defense needs to step forward once more till the offense gets healthy.

CITY LEAGUE:

Brashear (2-0, 2-1) at Westinghouse (1-0, 2-1) (7:00) - The Bulls’ offense, which we talked about the week before, is still trying to find its way. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have found their way to the top of the League standings, where we usually don’t find them. Keep an eye on Soloman Winton, who leads Westinghouse and the City League with six touchdowns and 40 points.

Once again, be sure to check out the “Mr. High School Sports” blog on 937thefan.com for more Week 4 coverage, and tune into “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show,” brought to you by ROOT Sports and hosted by John Phillips, Saturday at 7:00 A.M. on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan for a complete recap of Friday’s action!

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