Franklin Regional's 1st field-goal try of season nets winning points
Hopewell running back Rushel Shell dives into the end zone to score a 64-yard touchdown in front of Franklin Regional's Cory Lauer in the second quarter Friday at Fox Chapel High School.
Franklin Regional wide receiver Mark Nicholas tries to fend off Hopewell's Adam Murray in the first half Friday at Fox Chapel High School.
Franklin Regional quarterback Nico LoDovico runs for extra yardage against Hopewell in the second quarter.
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On a night when Rushel Shell broke the state record for rushing yards, Franklin Regional also reached a milestone.
The Panthers attempted a field goal -- and made it.
And the kick late in the game ended the career of the most prolific runner in the history of Pennsylvania high school football.
Mike Roberge, a Franklin Regional junior who never kicked before this football season, made a 33-yard field goal with 2:04 left to give the Panthers a 24-21 victory against Hopewell in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal game at Fox Chapel.
Shell, Hopewell's senior running back and a Pitt recruit, set a state record for career rushing yardage while gaining 292 yards on 33 carries. He finished his career with 9,078 yards on 1,107 carries, breaking the state record of 9,027 yards held by Steelton-Highspire's Jeremiah Young. He also set a national record with his 39th consecutive 100-yard game.
As Shell took a knee alongside his teammates after the game, he fought back tears while Hopewell's coaches addressed the team.
Meanwhile, Roberge couldn't stop smiling. It was the first field goal Franklin Regional attempted this season. Heck, the Panthers never attempted one last year, either. Roberge's kick came after Hopewell fumbled the ball at the Franklin Regional 21 with 7:51 left. Franklin Regional (11-0), which trailed, 21-7, in the third quarter, then drove to the Hopewell 16 before facing a fourth-and-10.
That's when Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta gave Roberge a nod -- for the first time in Roberge's life. The kid is the leading scorer on Franklin Regional's soccer team and scored a hat trick the previous time he played on Fox Chapel's field. Now he was asked to try a new trick -- a field goal. Roberge's thoughts?
"I was scared," the 5-foot-11, 150-pound Roberge said, clutching the game ball. "But I was just telling myself, 'The game is tied, so I can't lose the game on this.' So, there wasn't too much pressure."
Hopewell's hopes ended when the Vikings turned the ball on downs after Roberge's kick. The shame of it was Shell didn't get a chance to touch the ball on Hopewell's final two plays, despite needing only 4 yards for a first down.
After Roberge's field goal, Hopewell took over at the 38, Shell ran the ball twice out of the wildcat formation for 6 yards. On third down, Hopewell coach Dave Vestal called for a middle screen, but Nolan Harmotto's pass went through the hands of Adam Murray. On fourth down, with Shell split left as a receiver, Harmotto threw a quick pass to the right to Arion Sepp, but it fell incomplete.
Vestal was asked if he could call those last two plays over, would one of them have gone to Shell?
"We thought we could pop the screen, and it was there," Vestal said. "Then, on fourth down, we tried a hitch pass and ... we were just trying to get the first down. Then, we would've gone back to Rushel."
With the score tied, 21-21, Hopewell (8-3) looked like it might be driving for the go-ahead score and Shell looked pumped. He carried five consecutive plays and gained 58 yards to Franklin Regional's 21. Then, on first down, Hopewell tried a fullback run, but Zach Romah fumbled, and Dom Matarazzo recovered for Franklin Regional.
"I thought Rushel needed a break, so we thought we'd try the fullback for one play and then go back to Rushel," Vestal said.
Botta said: "This game is about momentum shifts. In a situation like that, we needed a play and recovering that ball was big. It was a crazy game. It was almost like we were destined to win. Them going up two scores, we could've easily caved."
The score was tied, 7-7, at halftime. Shell scored on a 64-yard run for Hopewell and Cory Lauer caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Nico Lodovico for Franklin Regional.
But in the third quarter, Shell scored on runs of 1 and 57 yards to finish his career with 110 touchdowns.
Franklin Regional's Dane Brown scored on a 1-yard run with 38 seconds remaining in the third to make it 21-14. Brown, the WPIAL's second-leading rusher behind Shell in the regular season, finished with 122 yards on 27 carries.
Franklin Regional tied it with 10:09 left when Lauer caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Lodovico. A Hopewell defensive back bit on a pump fake and fell, leaving Lauer open.
Afteward, Vestal tried to put in perspective Shell's career.
"He's been an amazing person who has gone through our program and I'm sure inspired many others, not only in our community, but in the entire WPIAL and state," Vestal said. "The thing I'll remember about him is the way he would perform on Friday nights in the biggest situations."