PITTSBURGH – Wash High running back Shai McKenzie needed 85 yards during Friday’s Class AA championship game at Heinz Field to break the WPIAL single-season rushing record, set by Hopewell’s Rushel Shell in 2009.
McKenzie came nowhere close.
And he has Aliquippa’s defense to thank.
The Quips limited to McKenzie to just 33 yards on 18 carries during a 34-7 win, his longest run covering just five yards.
To put that yardage total in perspective, consider that McKenzie’s 41 touchdown runs this season covered an average of 37.4 yards.
“Football is a team game,” said Wash High coach Mike Bosnic, whose team finished the year at 12-1. “They were able to overwhelm us and fly to the football. We just couldn’t get Shai going tonight. He’s a great player, but we just ran up against one of the best teams, maybe ever.”
McKenzie, who finished the season with 2,689 yards, took to Twitter after the game.
“Wow i got shut down,” McKenzie tweeted.
Not that it’s without precedent, as Aliquippa entered this game allowing an average of 39.8 yards per game.
Overall, Wash High – which, along with Aliquippa, was one of only two teams in the WPIAL to run for more than 4,000 yards this season – totaled just 91 rushing yards to 505 for the Quips (13-0).
“We blocked them. They couldn’t block us,” Quips coach Mike Zmijanac said. “It’s really very simple.”
Shake and fakes
Aliquippa found success early using fakes and misdirection. On quarterback Malik Shegog’s first touchdown run, he faked an option left to draw Wash High’s defense.
The play before, Terry Swanson took a pitch right, juked twice and made a pair of defenders miss.
Shegog again faked the option early in the second quarter, scoring on a 22-yard run to give Aliquippa a 22-0 lead.
“They had been getting movement on us all night long,” Wash High coach Mike Bosnic said. “They ran a couple plays and had success. Then when our kids expected the running back to have the ball, the quarterback pulled it, and there was no one there.”
Against the wind
A cold front that moved through the area in the afternoon made for some miserable playing conditions for quarterbacks and punters.
In addition to falling temperatures, wind gusts that exceeded 25 mph played havoc with offenses and special teams, even during pregame warmups when four metal benches – two on each side of the field – were blown over during one gust.
With Wash High trailing by four touchdowns in the second half, the Prexies tried to open up their offense and attempt some passes during the second half. Quarterback Josh Wise completed only two of 13 passes, and coach Mike Bosnic admitted the windy conditions had a role in the low completion percentage.
“It was tough,” Bosnic said. “In the second half, I know twice we had receivers open and Josh couldn’t get the ball to them because he was throwing into the wind. Nobody could have completed those passes.”
Punter Chase Caldwell was another Wash High player who had an interesting night battling the wind. Caldwell’s first two punts, each going into the wind, went for 55 and 57 yards. His third punt – this time with the wind at his back – traveled 63 yards. But Caldwell also had punts of 14, 11 and 3 yards. He averaged 32.5 yards on eight punts.
Aliquippa punted only once for 12 yards.
Follow the rules
Aliquippa advances to the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals and will play Karns City, a 35-29 winner over Chestnut Ridge last night. The Quips have a somewhat unique injury situation moving forward.
“They’re not allowed to be hurt,” Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac joked.
Sports editor Chris Dugan contributed to this report.