Name: Justin Watson
School: South Fayette
Watson’s week: Watson helped lead South Fayette’s second-half rout of Seton-La Salle in Friday’s Class AA WPIAL quarterfinal game. With the Lions and Rebels tied 7-7 at halftime, Watson caught two third-quarter touchdown passes and had a critical interception on fourth-and-24 in the third quarter. The senior wide receiver followed the defensive play with a two-yard touchdown catch. Watson scored less than five minutes later on a 87-yard touchdown pass from South Fayette junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh.
Watson has 44 catches for 1,066 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, ranking him among the top 15 receivers in the WPIAL. He finished Friday’s quarterfinal win with 10 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns. The win puts the Lions in position to reach the WPIAL title game at Heinz Field, as South Fayette will face Beaver Falls in the semifinals Friday night at Montour High School. Last season, the Lions lost to Washington in the semifinals, 26-14.
Chemistry: Although South Fayette struggled in the first half against Seton-La Salle, it was Brumbaugh and Watson who led the Lions to victory. Watson accounted for 194 of Brumbaugh’s 464 passing yards – a WPIAL playoff record.
“Mainly, we were just thinking that we needed to settle down,” Watson said. “We knew we could play better and we were the reason why we started slow. It got a little bit scary at halftime because it was the first time we were down all season. Looking back at it, it was probably a good thing. We hadn’t faced adversity all year and it will make us better.”
The relationship between Brumbaugh and Watson stretches back to their middle school days when they began playing basketball and football together. Since Brumbaugh became the Lions’ starting quarterback toward the end of his freshman season, the two have been a headache for opposing defenses. The chemistry between the two has allowed South Fayette head coach Joe Rossi to diversify the offense to the duo’s strengths.
“It’s huge,” Watson said. “It’s the difference between a good wide receiver/quarterback combo and great one. Our routes last year were mostly simple, standard curl and out routes, but this year putting in more timing stuff that opens up offense more. With a quarterback like Brett, we can do different things and it opens up the playbook.”
Ivy League bound: Watson had a tough decision to make as his senior season drew near. With Mid-American Conference, Patriot League and Ivy League schools offering football opportunties, his decision came down to what was best for his education. Watson will play wide receiver for Penn. He is the second wide receiver to have played with Brumbaugh to advance to the Division I level. Last season, Zach Challingsworth committed to Pitt while Watson accumulated 592 yards and eight touchdowns as the Lions’ No. 2 target.
“He’s just improved his game all around,” Brumbaugh said. “I think he’s one of the best route runners I have ever seen. This year, he has gotten a lot of yards after the catch. His moves and his strength have improved a lot.”
Defenses are moving an extra defender to Watson side of the field, opening up things for his teammates, most notably Conner Beck. Beck has caught 54 passes for 663 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
“He was running the whole game,” Rossi said. “He doesn’t leave the field and we asked him to cover their best receiver. I don’t think the kid had a catch during the second half. He is the total package and a tremendous football player.”
Compiled by Lance Lysowski