It is becoming a cruel, all-too-familiar story: A top WPIAL senior running back gets a bad injury in the first few games and misses the rest of the season.
The bad-luck back this year was Mars’ Josh Schultheis. In the first quarter of the opening game Friday against Indiana, Schultheis broke his tibia when he was tackled. He likely is done for the season, according to Mars coach Scott Heinauer. Schultheis also plays linebacker.
Last year, Shai McKenzie, a highly touted running back from Washington, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the third game and didn’t play the rest of the season. Four years ago, West Allegheny running back Mike Caputo was coming off a junior season in which he was named the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Player of the Year. But Caputo’s left ankle was dislocated in the first game. He had surgery and didn’t play the rest of the season.
Schultheis came into the season with 3,332 yards rushing the past two years and was a good bet to become the top rusher in school history. He was one of the main reasons Mars was ranked No. 4 in Class AAA of the WPIAL.
“As a coach, it’s devastating. It’s devastating to the team. But you feel the worst for the kid,” said Heinauer. “He has worked so hard. He doesn’t play another sport. He loves football and he was probably one of the best, physically fit kids we’ve ever had.”
Against Indiana, Schultheis had rushed for 78 yards on seven carries and caught a pass for 22 yards — all in the first quarter. Then the injury. In the second quarter, Mars held a 19-0 lead, but Indiana came back and knocked off the Planets, 29-26.
“Obviously, we were in control of the game,” said Heinauer. “I just think our kids were devastated. Kids counted on him so much. He was a constant for us.
“But coaches are all in the same business. You’ve got to re-group and get the kids re-focused. We lost the first game of last year, too, and didn’t lose again [in the regular season].”
Schultheis was one of two seniors selected to the Post-Gazette preseason Fabulous 22 injured Friday. The other was Seneca Valley quarterback-linebacker T.J. Holl.
In the fourth quarter against North Allegheny, Holl injured his right knee and spent the rest of the game on crutches on the sideline. Holl had an MRI Saturday and Don Holl, T.J.’s father and Seneca Valley’s coach, said T.J. has a sprain of his posterior cruciate ligament and will miss a few games.
Corbin Kessler, a senior receiver, played quarterback in place of Holl against North Allegheny Friday.
For new Gateway coach Tom Nola, it was a most inauspicious debut. One of the biggest surprises on the first Friday night of the season was Gateway’s 9-6 loss to Greensburg Salem. This was also Gateway’s first game in Class AAA since dropping down from AAAA.
Greensburg Salem had won only five games over the past two seasons. It should be noted that Gateway lost most of its starters from last year, but the Lions held Gateway without an offensive touchdown. Gateway’s only score came when Malik Burks returned a fumble 63 yards for a score. The last time Gateway was held without an offensive touchdown was in a 14-3 loss to North Allegheny two years ago.
Gateway had played Greensburg Salem only once before and also lost that one. It was 1993 and Greensburg Salem beat the Gators, 20-14. Gateway went 4-6 that season.
Bands of brothers
The opening night of the season brought out some impressive brother acts.
Highlands senior running back Elijah Jackson rushed for 171 yards on 10 carries and had 282 yards of offense in a 37-14 victory against Ford City. His brother, Jeremy Jackson, also a senior but not a twin, returned an interception 76 yards for a score.
Baldwin senior Doug Altavilla completed 10 of 17 passes and his younger brother, Nick Altavilla, a junior, had five catches.
Norwin junior Peyton Deri rushed for 118 yards on 18 carries and his brother, Logan Deri, a senior, returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown in a 16-0 victory against Latrobe. It was the first time since 2009 that Norwin won its opener.
• Two teams from eastern Pennsylvania opened the season in Ireland. Penn Manor defeated Cedar Cliff, 27-20, in Dublin as part of the Global Ireland Football Tournament.
• When the Philadelphia Eagles hired Pat Shurmur as their offensive coordinator last year, it was one of the best things that happened to the La Salle College football team.
Shurmur, former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, moved his family from Ohio and his son, Kyle Shurmur, enrolled at La Salle, one of the top programs in the Philadelphia Catholic League. Shurmur, now a 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior, is one of the top quarterbacks in the state and a Vanderbilt recruit. He completed 23 of 36 for 338 yards in La Salle’s opening 29-7 victory against North Penn.
• Elijah Holyfield, son of former heavyweight boxing champ Evander Holyfield, scored seven touchdowns and rushed for 147 yards for Woodward Academy (Ga.) Friday.
For more on high school sports, go to “Varsity Blog” at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: email@example.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.