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Fort Cherry's Vernillo breaks rushing record

Saturday, October 09, 1999

From local dispatches

On a most basic play, a handoff up the middle, Mike Vernillo ran past the Cornell line and the awesome specter of Matt Gavrish.

  Fort Cherry's tailback, Mike Vernillo, who needed only 92 yards rushing to capture the WPIAL's all time record, did so in just over 10 minutes of the first quarter against Cornell. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

Vernillo, a senior at Fort Cherry, gained 8 yards on that first-quarter carry last night. That gave him 92 for the game, and that gave him first place on the list of career rushing leaders in Western Pennsylvania.

"The play actually was a 'punk' 8-yard run," said Vernillo, who passed Gavrish, formerly of Penn-Trafford, with 1:30 left in the opening quarter. He did it en route to a 43-6 victory at Cornell in Class A Ohio Valley Conference play.

A four-year starter who has verbally committed to West Virginia, Vernillo was No. 2 on the list with 6,421 yards heading into the game. He needed 92 yards to become No. 1. Vernillo hit 92 on the nose on that "punk" play.

Fort Cherry called a timeout and Coach Jim Garry and his staff presented the ball to Vernillo, who turned it over to his parents, who were on the field.

Fort Cherry's Mike Vernillo, left, ran for 204 yards against Cornell last night to become the all-time WPIAL rushing champion. (John Heller, Post-Gazette) 

"I shed a few tears," Vernillo said. "There was a lot of pressure on me. I was up until 2 a.m. last night.

"I want to share this with my coaches. This year I've also had the biggest group of friends on the team. I'm thankful to the lots of great blockers I've had during my four years."

Garry said: "I'm glad for Mike, but I'm glad it's over. There was a lot of pressure."

Vernillo finished the game with 204 yards on 15 carries. During his four years with the Rangers varsity, he has gained 6,625 yards on 825 carries. Gavrish, who last played in 1997, had 6,512 yards on 962 carries.

Though Vernillo ran for touchdowns of 10 and 48 yards, the Rangers went ahead, 22-0, on touchdowns by other people. Brandon Chiera ran 1 yard to open the scoring and Matt Baldigowski threw touchdown passes of 18 and 12 yards to Adam Moss to give Fort Cherry (5-1, 3-1) that big lead early in the second quarter.

Vernillo broke his 48-yarder on the first play of the second half, the final scoring of the evening. He ran 12 yards on the Rangers' next possession, a gain that was shortened by a clipping penalty. Then he and the other Fort Cherry starters left the game, leaving Cornell (0-6, 0-4) with its 11th consecutive defeat.

There was talk earlier in the week of keeping Vernillo out of last night's game to give him the opportunity to break Gavrish's record at home against Chartiers-Houston next week. But he played, and Fort Cherry plans to honor him at the Chartiers-Houston game.

Following the game last night, fans from both sides gathered around Vernillo, seeking his autograph. Among them were youth players from both areas. A few youngsters said, kiddingly, "I'm going to break your record."

"I hope you do," Vernillo responded.

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