Talk to someone about the South Fayette High School football team, and the conversation will likely focus on quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, wide receiver Zach Challingsworth and the Lions’ high-flying passing game.
For Washington, South Fayette’s opponent in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals Friday night at Chartiers Valley, running back Shai McKenzie steals most of the spotlight, the result of a record-breaking season.
But while South Fayette’s passing game and the Prexies’ prolific running back may provide plenty of excitement, there are several, unsung reasons why both of these teams enter Friday’s game at 11-0 – Wash High’s offensive line and South Fayette’s defense chief among them.
The former unit had to replace four starters from last year, the only returner being right tackle Rikwon Moore.
But left tackle Brenton Jones, left guard Elijah Jones, center Xavier Darden and right guard Anthony Byrd have thrived under Wash High coach Mike Bosnic – a former offensive lineman at Pitt – to open up plenty of holes for McKenzie, who has 173 carries for 2,363 yards and 37 touchdowns.
“We just go out and try to get the job done,” Moore said. “I know that Shai gets a lot of credit and everything, but we know what we need to do to get the job done.”
Patrick Ellis and Thomas Cherry also have seen time up front for a unit that has allowed the Prexies to rush for 3,787 yards as a team, an average of 344 per game.
“We must be doing something right because that group has paved the way for one of the most successful rushing seasons in WPIAL history,” Bosnic said. “They’ve gone above and beyond expectations and done some great things.”
Bosnic takes a very hands-on – pun intended – approach to working with his lineman. Beside the obvious focal points of strength and footwork, Bosnic has worked with Wash High’s linemen on how they use their hands.
Many of the Prexies’ blocking schemes are borrowed from Bosnic’s Pitt days as well, making Wash High one of the more cerebral blocking teams around.
“For a high school team, we’re pretty advanced in our techniques and getting our guys to use their hands and footwork,” Bosnic said.
South Fayette’s defense is giving up just 5.3 points per game, second in the WPIAL to Aliquippa’s 3.8. The Lions also have 25 sacks, have forced 23 turnovers and are allowing 146.3 yards per game.
“We start every practice with a pursuit drill, just running to the football and understanding cutback lanes, counters and reverses,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “They know good things happen around the ball, so we preach getting around the ball.”
Challingsworth, Justin Watson and Conner Beck comprise a secondary Rossi believes is “as good as anybody around.” Tough to argue, too, considering the Lions allow 37.5 passing yards per game and haven’t given up a touchdown through the air all season.
Linebacker Pete Cochran leads the unit with 75 tackles, and defensive lineman Aaron Gross isn’t far behind with 71. Fellow lineman Dylan Witt has 46 tackles and seven sacks.
Dylan Nock, who anchors the inside of South Fayette’s 4-4-3 alongside Cochran, has 73 tackles – including seven for a loss – to go along with nine sacks and an 8-yard interception return for a touchdown during last week’s 35-21 win over Beaver Falls.
“There’s been a lot of talk about both offenses,” Rossi said. “They have a great offense, same with us. But defensively, we’ve done a good job creating turnovers and doing some good stuff.”
How much more “good stuff” either team enjoys will hinge on whether these unsung hereos can continue to have success.