The Shenango High football team is quickly climbing back into playoff contention.
Hunter Lively is a big reason why.
Lively rushed 15 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 48-6 WPIAL Class 1A Big Seven Conference home win over Northgate last week.
“We were fortunate the line was blocking very well, as we expect them to do,” Shenango coach Jimmy Graham said. “Hunter is a hard-nosed runner. He gets out of the backfield like a rocket. He gets a lot of yards and a lot of scores.”
Lively, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound junior fullback/safety, scored on runs of 19, 7 and 44 yards.
For his efforts, Lively was named the Lawrence County Athlete of the Week, as voted on by the New Castle News sports staff.
“I think I performed pretty good,” Lively said. “We did a good job running the ball. The line completely dominated. They opened up big holes for the backs to run through.”
The top five teams in each of the three WPIAL Class 1A conferences reach the playoffs. Shenango (2-2 conference, 2-4 overall), which has won two straight games, is tied for fourth with Fort Cherry (2-2, 4-3). The Rangers, though, own the tiebreaker by virtue of a 35-7 head-to-win.
The Wildcats face a big obstacle Saturday night — Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The Chargers (3-1, 5-1) are in a second-place tie with Rochester in the league standings.
“I feel if we get this win Saturday night, we should be good and have a good shot at making the playoffs,” Lively said. “Just keep running the ball like we’ve been doing. If we do have to pass, we need to make the right reads to get it done.”
In the two-game winning streak, Shenango has outscored the opposition, 76-12.
“I would say the line is dominating and they’re being more physical than the opponent. It allows us to run through those holes,” Lively said.
Lively has rolled up 482 rushing yards on 80 carries with four touchdowns.
“A lot of it is our offensive line,” Graham said of Lively’s recent success. “We’re starting to gel and get some confidence. We’re limiting our penalties and turnovers and we’re not getting behind the sticks; that benefits our running backs.
“We’re finding some holes. Hunter is a really smart and intelligent football player.”
Said Lively of his strong play of late, “I think I’m just getting to the secondary and reading secondary blocks. I’m making good cuts.”
Lively also made five tackles on defense, returned a kickoff for 24 yards and returned a punt back for three yards in the win over Northgate.
“He doesn’t come off the field,” Graham said. “He plays on all special teams. He’s out there all the time. That’s where he wants to be.
“He hardly has any injuries or complaints. Hunter just does what we ask him to do.”
Lively enjoys contributing on defense.
“I just read and react,” he said of playing defense. “I go wherever the ball goes. I fly to the ball and make the tackle.”
When Lively isn’t buckling up his chinstrap and rolling up plenty of yards and getting in the end zone, he excels at an individual sport — bowling. Lively competes in a junior league at Colonial Lanes and he said he has an average of “about a 190.”
“I enjoy bowling. It’s a fun thing to do on a Saturday morning, so I’m not laying around in bed,” Lively said. “It just gets me up and moving. When I get older, I’ll be able to join more leagues and more competitive leagues.”
Though Lively has another year to go at the high school level, he said he would like to play football at the collegiate level.