Hopewell's Shell sprints to WPIAL run record
With Tony Dorsett in the crowd and Mike Vernillo on the sideline, Hopewell's Rushel Shell secured his spot among the WPIAL greats Friday night.
With a 54-yard run typical of the senior, Shell broke the league's career rushing record held by Vernillo — a 12-year-old mark that had seemed destined to be Shell's since he ran for 2,740 as a sophomore in 2009.
"Everyone was proud of me; they know I worked hard for it," said Shell, who rushed for 205 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns in a 27-20 victory over Mt. Lebanon at Tony Dorsett Stadium, giving him 7,718 career yards.
Mt. Lebanon's Luke Hagy nearly upstaged Shell, rushing for 266 yards on 32 carries, including touchdowns of 15, 24 and 23 yards.
It was Shell's third touchdown run — a 2-yarder with 3:13 left — that secured Hopewell's nonconference victory over Mt. Lebanon (2-2), the No. 9 team in Class AAAA. The win keeps Class AAA No. 3 Hopewell (4-0) unbeaten.
"I said, 'I want the ball,' " Shell said of the winning touchdown. "I was either going to jump over this pile, or I'm going to lower my head and hopefully somebody just hits me in."
Nolan Harmotto scored Hopewell's other touchdown with a 12-yard run in the third quarter.
Shell entered yesterday needing 134 yards to break the record set by Vernillo at Fort Cherry in 1999. His night started slowly, losing 6 yards on his first two carries. But he gained momentum on Hopewell's second drive with runs of 7, 2, 5 and 7 yards, building to an 18-yard touchdown run. With 5:18 left in the first quarter, Hopewell led, 7-0. In the second, a 38-yard touchdown run jumped Shell closer to the record.
At halftime, Shell had 98 yards on 15 carries, leaving him 36 yards away. For that, all he needed was one second-half carry.
One play after Wiley Belknap's interception gave Hopewell possession, Shell took a first-down handoff around the right side and sprinted along the sideline for a 54-yard gain. He was pushed out of bounds 4 yards from the end zone.
"I'm glad we have him (because) he's special," coach Dave Vestal said. "He amazes you with what he does."
The crowd gave Shell a standing ovation when PA announcer Tony Ciucci told them of his achievement, and the football used on the record-setting run was whisked away to be painted. But otherwise, the moment was low key — matching the approach Shell has taken throughout his record-setting run.
"That wasn't my No. 1 goal this year; winning a championship was," he said. "If we win a championship, I'll show you some excitement. I might run up and down the field 1,000 times."