One of my favorite parts of this job – and there are many – is Saturday reporting. Whether it’s for The Varsity Letters blog, a weekly football notebook or just because, a lot of times while driving around on Saturday morning or afternoon I’ll call coaches from my car, the Honda CR-V’s speakerphone blaring, my recorder recording.
During those inquiries about the previous night’s game, the conversation tends to drift toward what I’ve seen, what they’ve seen and what we both expect in the coming week or weeks.
This season, that has meant a lot of discussion about Wash High and South Fayette, who will meet in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals tonight (7:30) at Chartiers Valley.
Many, including myself, predicted this game. And many, also including myself, couldn’t possibly be more excited. It’s quarterback (South Fayette’s Brett Brumbaugh) versus running back (Wash High’s Shai McKenzie), uptempo spread versus pro-style I.
“To me, it’s a fun rivalry because I think both teams play a good style of football,” Wash High coach Mike Bosnic said. “When we get together, you’re watching a good football game. It’s exciting to play a good team like South Fayette.”
The rivalry between Wash High and South Fayette came as a surprise to me, someone who started here July 23. The teams have only met two times – will be three tonight – in the past decade, splitting those meetings in 2010 and ’11 as members of the Class AA Century Conference. But there’s plenty of familiarity here.
Much of that actually comes from the basketball court. Nearly all of the impact players in tonight’s game also grew up competing in hoops. Deeper than that, many played together in youth leagues at The Brownson House.
“I remember playing against them when we were younger, and we went at it hard,” Wash High quarterback Josh Wise said. “We were only JV guys or younger, but it was amplified. It felt different. It wasn’t like playing any other team.”
What better way to transition into the hoops season, right? Although for the winner, a trip to Heinz Field will push basketball season back at least another week.
What’s also unique about this rivalry is that it’s not exactly one cultivated out of hatred, unlike those at Jefferson-Morgan and Carmichaels or Monessen and Charleroi or Wash High and Trinity.
This comes more from a mutual respect, at least as far as I can tell from talking to players and coaches on both sides. Many on South Fayette’s team are just as impressed with McKenzie’s ability as you and me. The same can be said for Wash High and South Fayette’s sophisticated passing game.
Not that the teams will be catching a late-night meal together, but don’t expect many fights or pushing and shoving tonight; these teams are too good, too focused on bigger and better things, for that to happen.
“As far as a rivalry where the two teams hate each other, I don’t think there’s any animosity here,” Bosnic said. “I think it’s more of a thing where our kids know that they have a very good football program, and they’re very successful in a lot of sports. Just like we’re successful in a lot of sports.”
Lions coach Joe Rossi has called McKenzie the best back he’s ever coached against, but he knows there’s more to the Prexies than their future Division I runner.
“McKenzie is tremendous,” Rossi said, “but there are times when he’s not touched going through the line. They’ve done a nice job creating some holes for him.
“The kid who I think gets lost sometimes is the Wise kid; he’s a three-year starter, so he’s been in big games and has done a great job when he’s called upon to throw,” Rossi added. “It’s not just Shai McKenzie for them.”
As I’ve written this week, tonight’s game pits two teams on the opposite ends of the offensive spectrum, yet two teams that are extremely successful with what they do. Both are also looking to clean up some mistakes from last Friday.
Tonight’s game figures to be one of the best all year, one that I know my predecessor, Mike Kovak, wishes he could see live. And it’s one that’s been anticipated – and hoped for – throughout much of this season.
“We have a mutual respect for each other,” Wise said. “But we both want to go to the WPIAL championship.”
Jason Mackey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org