Hopewell's Rushel Shell carries against West Allegheny Thursday.
By Mike White Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Overtime. Four plays from the 10-yard line. One of the greatest runners in the history of the WPIAL in the backfield.
So, what did Hopewell do?
Not give the ball to Rushel Shell. And it worked.
Quarterback Nolan Harmotto faked a handoff to Shell and ran 10 yards for a touchdown in overtime to give Hopewell a thrilling, 34-31 victory against host West Allegheny Thursday night.
On a night when Shell wrote his name into the record books a few more times, it was Harmotto's score that gave Hopewell something to look forward to next week: A playoff game.
A loss would pretty much have doomed Hopewell's playoff chances. Now the Vikings qualify for the Class AAA postseason with a 4-3 record in the Parkway Conference (5-4 overall).
The game was tied, 28-28, after regulation. In overtime, each teams get a chance to score from the 10. If the game remains tied, the process is repeated.
West Allegheny had the ball first in overtime and had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Steve Amic. Hopewell took the ball and coach Dave Vestal's plan was to give Shell the ball on second down -- and likely on third and fourth, if needed. But on first down, he used Shell as a decoy.
"I knew if we ran play-action to Rushel, they would be all over him," Vestal said of the winning play. "We had three guys in the route, and it was a run-pass option. Our quarterback is a playmaker. I could tell by the look in his eyes he was going to make a play for us."
But Shell is still all over the WPIAL record books. He finished with 193 yards on 35 carries and scored three touchdowns, despite suffering a dislocated shoulder in the second half. But Shell got the shoulder to pop back into place and finished the game.
He became the first running back in WPIAL history to run for 2,000 yards in consecutive regular seasons. He finished with 2,102 yards, second-best in regular-season history behind Mars' Bill Bair, who ran for 2,112 in 2007.
Shell also passed West Greene's Rodney Wilson and moved into third place on the WPIAL all-time list with 6,358 yards.
"I don't really care about those personal stats. I just want to win," Shell said. "We knew they'd be keying on me in overtime. Sometimes, you have to go to your other big players."
West Allegheny (6-3, 5-2) came back from a 28-7 halftime deficit to force overtime. West Allegheny held Hopewell to only three first downs in the final two quarters, and Shell had only 22 yards on 12 carries after halftime.
Aaron McKinney scored all four West Allegheny touchdowns, including three in the second half on runs of 11, 1 and 35 yards. His 35-yarder with seven minutes left made it 28-26, and he also threw the extra-point pass to C.J. Revtai to tie the game. McKinney, often taking direct snaps in West Allegheny's wildcat formation, finished with 82 yards rushing on 15 carries and also caught seven passes for 69 yards.
In the first half, Hopewell's defense was terrific while Shell broke loose for 169 yards and three touchdowns. Hopewell held West Allegheny without a first down until the 4:23 mark of the second quarter. Shell scored on runs of 16, 5 and 77 yards, and Zach Gula caught a 3-yard touchdown pass form Harmotto.
West Allegheny scored on the final play of the half, a 2-yard touchdown run by McKinney.
"The way we won this game was fitting for our season," Vestal said. "Early on, we came up short in close games. Now, we're in tight games and coming up a winner."