By Matt Popchock


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This week’s UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Athlete of the Week is John Lerda, a senior quarterback for the South Fayette football team.

The first-year starter and son of the identically-named Brashear football legend showed where he gets his genes by leading the WPIAL Class AA champs to a comeback victory over visiting Steel Valley (0-1, 2-1) last Friday in the Century Conference opener for both teams.

Lerda connected on 19 of 34 attempts, overcoming late struggles, including a pick-six by Dontez Williams to throw for 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 23-20 win over the Ironmen. He also engineered the drive that ended with tailback Trevor Fiorentini’s game-winning two-yard TD run with under three minutes left in the game.

In the first quarter, Lerda hooked up with Zach Challingsworth on a 65-yard bomb to get his Lions (1-0, 2-1) on the board first–a play that, for much of the night, stood as the only offensive score. Fiorentini brought down Williams for a safety in the second quarter that gave South Fayette a 9-0 halftime advantage, then Steel Valley responded in the third quarter when Williams took an interception 45 yards to the house.

After falling behind 13-9, Lerda’s 14-yard TD toss to Shane Girman put South Fayette back in front with under five minutes to play, only to be cancelled out by Williams 75-yard touchdown run immediately after the ensuing kickoff. But Lerda kept his cool and completed six of seven passes in rapid succession to set the stage for Fiorentini.

Lerda enters Week 4 of the WPIAL regular season as one of the top passers in Class AA with 510 yards and seven touchdowns.

Be sure to catch the next edition of “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show,” brought to you by ROOT Sports and hosted by John Phillips, Saturday 7-9 A.M. on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, when we’ll announce our next UPMC Centers for Rehab Services Athlete of the Week!

Meanwhile, here are some of Mr. High School Sports’ other top performers from Week 3 of the WPIAL/City League campaign:


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Mack Leftwich, North Allegheny: It’s a shame he’s not the biggest kid on the field, because that might scare away recruiters despite his athleticism and accuracy, but in Week 3 the only size that mattered was that of his heart. In a non-conference battle between two of the top Quad-A teams in the state, Leftwich, who transferred from Union High School in Tulsa, OK for his junior season, sparked N.A. with 209 yards on 13-of-23 passing, and gained 52 more on the ground, tying the game with his one-yard plunge in the third quarter of a 28-21 win over visiting Upper St. Clair.

Rushel Shell, Hopewell: It’s been a tough start for Moon, which isn’t the stiffest competition the Vikings will face this year, but the fact that the best running back in the Commonwealth racked up a Week 3-best 366 rushing yards still merits a “holy crap.” Shell scored on touchdown runs of 45, 60, 39, 68 and 46 yards, and also caught a 69-yard TD pass in a 56-28 rout of the host Tigers in Parkway Conference play. This sets the stage for what could be a very memorable night at the house his great-uncle built in Week 4:

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: 30 carries, 366 yards (5 TD) in 56-28 win at Moon
This Friday: vs. Mount Lebanon, 7:00 P.M.*
*Check out Mr. High School Sports’ special live blog from Tony Dorsett Stadium

Updated all-time WPIAL rushing list (senior season in parentheses):
1. Mike Vernillo, Fort Cherry (’99): 7,646 yds
2. Rushel Shell, Hopewell (’11): 7,512 yds
Updated all-time PIAA rushing list:
5. Terrin Ash, Honesdale (’94): 7,749 yds
6. Mike Vernillo, Fort Cherry (’99): 7,646 yds
7. Rushel Shell, Hopewell (’11): 7,512 yds
8. Curtis Brinkley, West Catholic (’03): 7,413 yds
9. Henry Hynoski, Southern Columbia (’06): 7,165 yds

Mikal Hall, Aliquippa: The statistics don’t make him the No. 1 quarterback in Class AA (Matt Buckley of Keystone Oaks is the current passing yardage leader), but his performances through the first three games of 2011 do plenty to make that argument. Midwestern Conference rival Riverside gave Aliquippa some early fits last Friday, but Hall strapped the Quips on his back by helping produce 26 second-quarter points in a 46-28 triumph over the Panthers. Hall went 10-of-16 for 272 yards and three touchdowns, the fourth-best passing performance in the district in Week 3, providing Aliquippa’s final margin with a 97-yard scoring strike to Kaylan Kenney. He also ran for three TD’s and a two-point conversion.

Danny Lis, Chartiers-Houston: One of the top dual-threat QB’s in Class A kept Serra Catholic reeling, and gave his Buccaneers some separation in their Week 3 Black Hills Conference contest. Lis scrambled ten times for 134 yards, including touchdown runs of 34 and 44, in Chartiers-Houston’s 35-7 win over the Eagles.

Jaylen Coleman, University Prep/Obama Academy: He may have transferred from Gateway before the start of the season, but this tailback/middle linebacker is still drawing Division I attention from Cincinnati, WVU, Toledo, and Syracuse for his defensive prowess, and he’s helping put this newly-mutated City League team on the map. Coleman led the League in Week 3 with 174 rush yards, including a 65-yard touchdown, in the latter stages of the Panthers’ 25-0 win over Oliver.

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