Central Valley found a way to reach the WPIAL quarterfinals without its best player, a major collegiate recruit, its leading rusher and its dependable starting quarterback.
All season long Hopewell has found a way to reach the WPIAL quarterfinals without its major collegiate recruit.
No. 3 Central Valley (8-2) escaped a first-round scare from No. 14 Belle Vernon Area, 17-16, last Friday. The Warriors were playing without senior wide receiver Robert Foster who was suspended for the first-round game. He is one of the most highly recruited players in the country.
No. 11 Hopewell (5-5) has had to reinvent itself this season after the graduation of Rushel Shell, the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania history and one of the mostly highly recruited players to come out of the area.
The Vikings upset No. 6 Hampton, 14-6, last Friday to set up a showdown Friday night at Ambridge between Parkway Conference and neighboring Beaver County rivals.
Foster returns from his suspension this week -- he was assessed two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the Warriors' regular-season non-conference finale against Beaver Falls and was ejected, which automatically meant he was suspended for the team's next game.
Unfortunately for Hopewell, Shell is busy playing at the University of Pittsburgh and will not be in a Vikings uniform Friday night.
When the teams met in the regular season, Foster was the difference. He scored on runs of 4 and 14 yards and caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Nate Climo as Central Valley rolled to a road victory, 35-17.
Climo is injured and not expected to play this week. Central Valley running back Jordan Whitehead is also injured but his status is uncertain.
Without Shell, Hopewell has relied on a number of different running options. In the first-round playoff win against Hampton, Tyler Isham ran 20 times for 157 yards while scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard plunge at the end of the third quarter.
While Foster may have been the difference when the teams met in the regular season, injuries also played a major factor with Hopewell losing four linebackers during the game.
"We are looking forward to a tough matchup," Hopewell coach Dave Vestal said. "Now we are fairly healthy, we are feeling pretty good."
Running back Adam Murray was one of the players lost during the Central Valley game. He is set to return on Friday night.
Quarterback Stephan Mrkonja, fullback Mike Tempalski and Isham are other playmakers Hopewell will rely on.
"We always hang our hat on our offensive line," Vestal said. "This year we are spreading carries between our quarterback, tailback and fullback and utilizing our receivers. If we control the line of scrimmage, we have a chance."
It has been an up-and-down season for Hopewell. It started the season 1-3 with its only win a 7-6 home victory against Blackhawk. It was blanked, 35-0, in a non-conference game against Freedom but it went into the regular-season finale with a chance to control its own destiny, and it did, blasting New Castle, 42-16, to qualify for the playoffs.
"At the beginning of the season, we were a young, inexperienced football team," Vestal said. "We faced a lot of adversity, but it was also an opportunity to grow. I think our kids have grown."
Hopewell has played three games decided by four points or fewer, including an overtime contest. Central Valley can relate, it has played three games decided by one point, an overtime loss to Montour back in Week 2, a 36-35 loss at Class AA Beaver Falls in the regular-season finale.
Despite missing three key players in its first-round game against Belle Vernon, Central Valley found a way to win as Elliot Taylor converted on a 22-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
"They found a way to get it done," Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. "We live to play another day."
• Game: Central Valley (8-2) vs. Hopewell (5-5).
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Ambridge Area's Moe Rubenstein Stadium.
• Skinny: Beaver County rivals meet in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal.