Five-star running back Rushel Shell is chasing the WPIAL record books for a chance to finish his career as the WPIAL's all-time leading rusher. His chances increased on Thursday night as his Hopewell Vikings won its fourth game in a row at conference rival West Allegheny in a 34-31 thriller.
In the process, the Vikings clinched a playoff spot, which adds more games for Rushel Shell to increase his career rushing total. Thursday night, though, it was all about just getting in the playoffs.
"This is big, big confidence booster," Shell said after the game. "Teamwork makes a dream work, eleven as one, all hats to the ball; we can beat anyone."
Hopewell jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first half behind 170 yards from Shell, and three rushing touchdown runs. Shell also had a 30-yard reception in one-on-one coverage, while playing receiver. It set up Hopewell's third touchdown of the night. Shell's 77-yard touchdown gave Hopewell a 28-0 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half.
The West Allegheny defense found a way to shut down Shell in the second half, limiting him to just 20 yards. Though he still had a big game, and his team came out on top, he knew West Allegheny was going to come up with a good game plan to try to stop him.
"We knew Monday coming in, it was West A," Shell said. "They're a great team. No matter who is on their team, with or without (Wisconsin commit Mike) Caputo, if they have Caputo, even better. Coach Palko and his coaching staff are going to come out and play, no matter who it is."
Shell is pretty close with Caputo, who has been out since week one with an ankle injury. West Allegheny head coach Bob Palko declared Caputo out for the season, but Caputo did dress for this game, since it was senior night. Shell said it was nice to see his good friend in uniform, despite having to miss his full senior season.
"We texted a little bit (this week)," Shell said. "I asked him if he was playing, and he said, 'No, my ankle is still bothering me.' He's trying to get it better. I would have loved to have played against Mike again."
Despite being limited on offense in the second half, Shell found a way to come up with a couple big plays on defense. He intercepted a pass in the end zone, which prevented a touchdown. Hopewell was penalized for roughing the passer. Even though West Allegheny held on to the ball, Shell prevented a touchdown. He prevented another in the overtime period, when we broke up a pass in the end zone.
Shell doesn't play both sides the full time, but he does come in and play corner in certain situations--mostly a lot of goal line and red zone situations. Would he mind playing some more corner?
"Whatever my team needs me to do, I just do," Shell said.
West Allegheny tied the game with just under three minutes remaining. Both teams had one more shot to get the lead before regulation, but instead, traded punts.
The Hopewell defense tightened up on their last series of regulation, forcing West Allegheny to punt. Overtime rules in the WPIAL place the ball at the 10 yard-line, as they waive off the chains. The Indians were held to a field goal, but not after the key pass breakup in the end zone from Shell. West Allegheny led 31-28, with the ball going to Hopewell for its series in overtime.
It was four-down territory, but the Vikings only needed one play, as quarterback Nolan Harmotto scrambled in from ten yards out on the first play. Even though Shell struggled in the second half, the Vikings had to like their chances--four down territory to get ten yards with a running back like Shell. The West Allegheny defense must have thought so as well, as they were caught off guard by Harmotto scrambling on the first-down play. Harmotto camped at Pitt, Purdue and Maryland this past summer.
"We can't rely on Rushel all the time," Harmotto said. "We have a lot of threats, and a line that keeps on blocking. It felt great. I was just thinking the whole time, ‘I know I can do this, I know I can do this.' (Hopewell head coach Dave Vestal) gave me the chance, and I'm going to make the most of it."
After the game, both Shell and Harmotto talked how they can rely on each other to create big plays. For example, as Hopewell built up its first-half lead, Shell was able to run. When Shell was shut down in the second half, Harmotto came out with the game-winning score.
"It takes a lot of stress off my shoulders," Shell said. "Nolan, he's a great quarterback. He's a typical quarterback--tall, real smart. He realizes things on the defense. He's got a good arm, nice speed.
"That helps me a lot. If things aren't going well, we can go to him. Whenever it does start working, it's going to open things up again for myself, and other people on my team."
After the game, Shell also gave a brief recruiting update.
"It's going good," Shell said. "A lot of schools have talked to me. I'm trying to visit everything. I don't have a favorite right now.
As for the hometown Pitt Panthers, who have turned around their season similar to the way Hopewell has turned theirs around?
"That's a great school," Shell said of Pitt. "They always produce good running backs, and Coach Wannstedt knows what he's doing. I'm just looking at everyone."