BRIDGEVILLE – Before every game, Shai McKenzie gets inspiration from one of the greatest running backs to play Washington High School’s football program.
Seems McKenzie, the 6-0, 215-pound junior fireball tailback for the Prexies, found a video of Davis on Youtube and watches it before every game.
“Before each game, I watch “The Legend of Brian Davis” on Youtube,” said McKenzie. “He’s an amazing back.”
McKenzie might be even more amazing.
He came into the game needing 176 yards to eclipse the single-season rushing record for the Washington-Greene County area. Mike Vernillo held that record with 2,539 yards from his sophomore season in 1997 at Fort Cherry. The emphasis is on the word held.
McKenzie had four touchdown runs on a cold Friday night to lift Washington to a 26-14 victory over South Fayette in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals at Chartiers Valley High School.
McKenzie rushed 42 times for 293 yards and now has 2,656 yards, leaving Vernillo’s record in the rear view mirror. McKenzie has a chance to add to that record and help the Prexies win a WPIAL title when they take on Aliquippa Friday (5 p.m.) at Heinz Field.
Maybe McKenzie will watch the Davis video three times
“My dad told me about Brian Davis,” said McKenzie. “He told me he was one of the best athletes he’s seen in his life. I want to be better than him.”
McKenzie’s father, Sean, played basketball with Davis at Washington and was in the stands for the glorious four-year playoff run the Prexies had with Davis leading the way. Now, it’s McKenzie’s turn.
“He’s such a great player,” said Wash High head coach Mike Bosnic. “We rode him tonight, and he took us all the way. I told the players before the game that I felt like we were a team that was destined to make it to Heinz Field.”
McKenzie left a good South Fayette team grasping at air, wrapping their arms around a ghost that seemed to break free no matter how many times they appeared to have him cornered.
“We knew he was going to get his,” said South Fayette head coach Joe Rossi. “He made us miss.”
On McKenzie’s most important run of the game, he broke a tackle on a play that seemed destined to be an ordinary three-yard gain and raced 56 yards for a touchdown that gave Washington a 20-14 lead and seemed to break the Lions’ spirit.
“What we have is one of the best running backs in the state,” said Washington quarterback Josh Wise. “They’ll be chasing him for a while. We don’t throw the ball a lot, and I don’t run the ball a lot. We’re just a bunch of role players.”
Maybe, but that’s selling the team short.
On McKenzie’s first touchdown, an eight-yard run, Wise was brilliant with his hard count, pulling South Fayette offside on a fourth-down play to keep the drive alive.
On McKenzie’s fourth TD, a seven-yard scamper off right tackle, Jaylin Kelly and Wise had two key runs for first downs that kept the drive going.
The middle two touchdowns? Well, those were vintage McKenzie runs. He patiently waited for the hole to open on the right side of the line, then burst through for a 58-yard tun that gave Wash High a 14-0 lead. On the first series of the second half, it was nearly an identical play, except it covered 56 yards.
“I don’t know what else I can say about him,” Bosnic said. “He’s one of the best running backs in America.”
So good, in fact, that someday another talented back might someday find inspiration from watching “The Legend of Shai McKenzie.”