BRIDGEVILLE – One long drive secured an even longer – and more fulfilling – drive for the Washington High School football team.
Starting the fourth quarter of Friday’s WPIAL Class AA semifinal against South Fayette at their own 15-yard line, the Prexies moved 85 yards in 10 plays, half of them first downs, before running back Shai McKenzie scored on a 7-yard run 5 minutes, 20 seconds later.
The drive was not only emblematic of Wash High’s dominance on a night where the Prexies ran for 454 yards, but the 26-14 win at Chartiers Valley means the third-seeded Prexies will play for the WPIAL title next Friday at Heinz Field.
“That was our goal all week,” Wash High coach Mike Bosnic said. “We felt that we could run right at them. We felt that we could be more physical. We thought eventually we could wear them down, and the kids came through.”
Wash High’s physicality and sustained possessions translated into a monster game for McKenzie, who carried a career-high 42 times for 293 yards and four touchdowns.
McKenzie now has 2,656 yards on the season, giving him the most yards in a single season in Washington or Greene history.
“I didn’t think I was going to have that many carries,” said McKenzie, who now has 41 touchdowns this season. “But I knew I could crunch away, get yards and keep my team in it.”
Washington (12-0) will play Aliquippa Friday at 5 p.m., as the Prexies try to win their first WPIAL title since 2001 and ninth overall.
While Wash High’s lengthy drive sealed the win, two plays in the second half were pivotal.
No. 2 seed South Fayette drove to the Wash High 3-yard line late in the third quarter, but quarterback Brett Brumbaugh’s pass to Zach Challingsworth on fourth down fell incomplete.
Four minutes later, McKenzie had his fourth touchdown.
“We needed to score right there,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “That was the game. You could just feel the deflation of the game right there.”
Two plays after Brumbaugh (11 of 27, 238 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions) completed an 18-yard pass to Challingsworth on South Fayette’s ensuing drive, Washington defensive back Darius Spinks went up for a jump ball with Justin Watson and came down with the interception, despite ceding about five inches in height.
“I saw the ball going up in the air,” Spinks said. “I didn’t want to get beat, so I just went up in the air and tried to muscle it down.”
Brumbaugh was intercepted on the first offensive play of the game, as Thomas Cherry tipped the ball at the line of scrimmage and Rhamir Thomas pulled it down.
Wash High ran 22 offensive plays to only seven for South Fayette (11-1) in the opening quarter, taking a 7-0 lead on an 8-yard run from McKenzie.
McKenzie made it 14-0 with a 58-yard touchdown run at 10:27 of the second quarter before Brumbaugh answered with a 1-yard run of his own and a 23-yard scoring strike to Challingsworth (4-103), who made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch.
But McKenzie put the Prexies ahead with a 56-yard burst on the first drive of the third quarter, and Wash High cemented the win with a drive that won’t be forgotten around town any time soon.
“No one expected us to be making the trip to Heinz Field, outside of our locker room,” Bosnic said. “I think that really says a lot about a group of guys and the resolve they showed all year. “Right now we’re 12-0, and we’re playing for a WPIAL title. I’m really happy for them.”
Wash High fullback Jaylin Kelly had 57 yards on eight carries. ... Quarterback Josh Wise converted a key first down with a 27-yard run late in the game to help secure the victory. ... The Prexies were penalized eight times for 52 yards.