Hopewell running back Rushel Shell keeps moving up the list of the WPIAL's all-time leading rushers. But his team cannot get out of the basement of its conference.
After Blackhawk came into Tony Dorsett Stadium Friday night and handled host Hopewell, 31-14, the cruel, hard reality is that one of the leading rushers in WPIAL history likely will not be in the playoffs this season.
Shell ran for 132 yards on 24 attempts and passed two others to move into seventh place on the WPIAL all-time rushing list with 5,269 yards. But the loss dropped Hopewell's record in the Class AAA Parkway Conference to 0-3 (1-4 overall). Blackhawk is 2-1 in the conference and 4-1 overall.
Hopewell and Ambridge are tied for last in a conference that just might be the toughest in the WPIAL. Hopewell is looking up at six other teams, and the Vikings' only hope for the playoffs likely is to win its final four games.
"We lost a lot of good guys from last year," said Hopewell coach Dave Vestal, who has only two returning starters from a team that played in the WPIAL title game a year ago. "We're making progress at times, but we need a win."
Some key penalties and a first-half fumble hurt the Vikings. What also hurt was Blackhawk's defense, led by standout junior linebacker Mike Shansky, who was on crutches in the middle of the week with an injured ankle.
The Cougars kept Shell from breaking a long run. Take away a 27-yard run by Shell in the first half, and he had "only" 105 yards on 23 attempts.
Although Shell stretched his string of 100-yard games to 23, the 132 yards was his lowest total in a game since his freshman year when he had 17 yards on five carries -- against Blackhawk.
"Our defense has played well all year," said Blackhawk coach Joe Hamilton. "We held Shell down. You're never going to stop that guy."
It was Blackhawk's best offensive showing of the year, and the Cougars got a fine performance from 6-foot-4 freshman quarterback Chandler Kincade. The 15-year-old Kincade showed a few flashes of promise in the first four games.
Last night, he showed some flashes of brilliance, completing 8 of 15 passes for 159 yards. He had four passes dropped.
"His potential is great, but he's still just a ninth-grader," Hamilton said. "He's going to make some mistakes, but he played really well."
Kincade came into the game with 181 yards passing on 18 of 44 throwing. One of his passes against Hopewell was a 43-yarder to his older brother, Anthony, a junior tight end.
"This was my best game by far, but it was the best game because we won," Kincade said.
Shansky, who also plays fullback, scored three touchdowns on runs of 1, 3 and 1 yards. But it was a nifty play by Kincade that got Blackhawk its first score in the opening quarter. Kincade eluded a rush and took off to his right like he was going to run.
But just before the line of scrimmage, he pulled up and passed to Brett Alberti, who took the pass and raced down the sideline for a 52-yard scoring play. The touchdown capped a 98-yard drive.
On the first play after the kickoff, Hopewell quarterback Nolan Harmotto fumbled, and Blackhawk recovered at Hopewell's 17. Shansky ran four consecutive times and the final attempt was a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:18 left in the first quarter.
Hopewell scored on its next possession with a 2-yard run by Shell. But four defensive offside penalties hurt Hopewell in the first half, and Blackhawk took a 21-7 lead into halftime on Shansky's 3-yard touchdown run.
Shansky scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter, and the Cougars' final points came on Phil Pritchard's 24-yard field goal. Hopewell got a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Harmotto to Adam Murray.