Two years ago, Brett Brumbaugh was just a freshman quarterback on South Fayette’s junior varsity football team. The lanky underclassman, who was following in the footsteps of his older brothers Luke and Christian, was grabbing the attention of Lions head coach Joe Rossi.
When South Fayette’s varsity football team suffered an injury at quarterback in Week 8 of that season, the youngest Brumbaugh was thrust into the starting job. He responded by leading the Lions into the WPIAL playoffs and helped South Fayette defeat Beaver Falls in the first round.
One week later, Brumbaugh dropped back to pass against Class AA rival Seton-La Salle. He forced a throw into coverage that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. When he got to the sideline, Brumbaugh threw his helmet.
Fast forward to today and Brumbaugh is the first quarterback to lead South Fayette to a state football title. The 6-4, 195-pounder led the Lions to a 41-0 win over Imhotep Charter Sunday in the Class AA final at Hersheypark Stadium – the largest margin of victory in a championship game in PIAA history. His record-setting year was capped by being named the Class AA Player of the Year by the Pennsylvania Football Writers.
He can now add Observer-Reporter Player of the Year to his résumé.
After taking home the state championship that eluded his brother Christian in 2010, Brumbaugh is still trying to let soak in his accomplishments this season.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” Brumbaugh said. “It still hasn’t fully set in yet that we did what we did. I watched the film, and it’s still running through my mind. It means a lot to share it with my brothers. They have helped me for so long, and they have been a big part of my success. I can hold this over their heads a little, too.”
Brumbaugh finished his junior season with a WPIAL single-season record 3,897 passing yards and 41 touchdowns. He broke Christian’s record from 2010 by 161 yards. With one more season to lead the Lions and 7,326 passing yards in his three-year career, Brumbaugh has an excellent chance to become the WPIAL’s all-time leading passer.
The road to Hershey was not a smooth one. After South Fayette defeated Beaver Falls to advance to the WPIAL Class AA title game at Heinz Field, the Lions were tasked with facing powerful Aliquippa. The Quips were seen as odds-on favorite because of a plethora of Division I talent on the roster, but it was Brumbaugh’s arm that led South Fayette to victory with a pivotal six-play, 75-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive. With less than three minutes to play, Brumbaugh connected with senior wide receiver Conner Beck for a 19-yard go-ahead touchdown.
Brumbaugh shook off a first-quarter interception and finished with 315 passing yards in the Lions’ 34-28 win.
“The helmet went flying because he thought he let his teammates down,” Rossi said of Brumbaugh’s frustration during his freshman season. “Now, he knows it’s just a part of the game. Things would happen, and his teammates would pick him up or he would pick himself up. His demeanor has come a long way. He is just way beyond his years as far as maturity.”
Brumbaugh carried his performance from the WPIAL championship game into the PIAA playoffs. In three-straight wins, he threw for 818 yards and eight touchdowns. The three-game stretch included a matchup against Hickory, which dropped between eight and 10 players into pass coverage to combat Brumbaugh and the Lions.
The strategy worked until South Fayette turned to the run game to clinch a trip to Hershey. Brumbaugh struggled, but unlike his reaction to adversity in his freshman year, the junior showed maturity. One week later, he tossed three touchdown passes to lead South Fayette past Imhotep Charter.
Lions senior wide receiver Justin Watson, who set the WPIAL single-season receiving yardage record during a 126-yard performance against Imhotep, has seen Brumbaugh progress from a frustrated freshman to a flourishing state championship-winning quarterback.
“The biggest difference I’ve seen from him is his confidence,” Watson said. “Whether we are playing great or playing down, he has always had his head up and knows he is going to make a play. He’s level-headed and always knows what the team needs.”
According to Brumbaugh, his comfort in South Fayette’s offense has grown with each game. While his brothers were turning heads as record-setting quarterbacks – Luke at Seton-La Salle and Christian at South Fayette – Brumbaugh was a lanky seventh-grader playing offensive line and tight end for his middle school team. The coaches thought his size could be best used with his hand on the ground.
When Watson, who played quarterback as an eighth-grader, was injured, Brumbaugh was able to give throwing the football a try. To say the least, the transition went well for both Brumbaugh and Watson.
With this record-setting junior season, Brumbaugh is gaining interest in college football recruiting circles. With scholarship offers from Temple and Akron already on the table, Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Mississippi State and Duke have began showing interest.
“No one really gave us a chance,” Brumbaugh said. “People didn’t even really give us a chance against Beaver Falls. We knew we could win a state title. We just had to stay focused, block out the noise and prove people wrong.”
Tyler Aeschbacher Carmichaels Senior, wide receiver
Perhaps no player in the area had a larger increase in production from last year than Aeschbacher, a sure-handed 6-0, 172-pound senior. Aeschbacher finished third in the WPIAL with 62 receptions for 971 yards (15.7 per catch) and 17 touchdowns. … Caught at least one touchdown pass in nine of the Mikes’ 10 games. … Showed he would be a force this season when he caught six passes for 215 yards and touchdowns of 76, 61 and 28 yards in the opener against arch-rival Jefferson-Morgan. … Had 15 receptions for 198 yards and three touchdowns against Mapletown.
Max Augenstein Peters Township Senior, tight end
The 6-5, 240-pounder was an inviting target for Peters Township quarterbacks. … Caught 29 passes for 374 yards and scored four touchdowns. … Had perhaps his best game in the Indians’ WPIAL Class AAAA loss at McKeesport, catching three touchdown passes. … Continued a tradition of quality tight ends at Peters Township. … The only player from Washington County to be named first team All-Southeastern Conference.
Patrick Frey McGuffey Senior, RB/LB
Talented two-way player. … Was one of only three players to be named first team All-Century Conference on offense and defense. … Transfer from Trinity. … Teamed with James Duchi to give McGuffey a potent 1-2 punch at running back. … Rushed for a team-high 1,290 yards and scored 22 touchdowns (19 rushing). Also passed for two scores. … Was the Highlanders’ leading tackler. … Had three sacks and three interceptions.
Clintell Gillaspie Monessen Senior, RB
Gillaspie had a breakout year, becoming one of the most dangerous offensive players in the WPIAL. … Led the Greyhounds in a triple crown of offense, producing 1,218 rushing yards, 679 receiving yards and an amazing 204 points, which ranked second in the WPIAL. … Scored more points than 18 teams in Class A and produced at least one touchdown in all 11 Greyhounds games. … Named first team all-state in Class A by the Pennsylvania Football Writers but it was as a defensive player.
Matt Heslin Fort Cherry Senior, QB
The triggerman for a Fort Cherry offense that averaged 39.8 points per game. … Blossomed in his second year as a starter. … Completed 80 of 148 passes for 1,638 yards and 33 touchdowns. … Almost tripled his passing yardage from his junior season. … Voted first team All-Black Hills Conference.
Koltan Kobrys Fort Cherry Senior, RB
Kobrys is the latest in a long line of talented tailbacks at Fort Cherry. The senior led all area running backs, and was second in the WPIAL, with 2,262 rushing yards and averaged a first down (10.7 yards per attempt) every time he carried the football. … What made Kobrys extra dangerous was his ability to catch the football. He had 16 pass receptions. … Was a major reason why the Rangers had one of the most explosive offenses in Class A. … Twice scored five touchdowns in a game. … Named Black Hills Conference Offensive Player of the Year. … Finished 5th in the WPIAL in scoring with 174 points.
Shai McKenzie Washington Senior, RB
The 2012 Observer-Reporter Player of the Year, McKenzie was off to one of the best starts by a running back in WPIAL history this fall before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Prexies’ Sept. 13 win at Charleroi. McKenzie rushed for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging a mind-boggling 18.1 yards per carry. … Was the most highly recruited player in the area in many years. He announced his commitment to Virginia Tech Friday and plans to enroll next month. … Ended his career 15th on the WPIAL’s all-time rushing list with 4,856 yards. … Is the all-time rushing leader at Washington.
One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the WPIAL. … Is one of the few 1,000-1,000 players in WPIAL history, passing for 1,494 yards and rushing for a team-high 1,210 yards. … Completed 93 of 180 yards and 14 touchdowns. Threw only six interceptions. … Averaged 10.4 yards per carry and ran for 14 scores. … Completed 13 of 18 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran for 27 yards, in a win over Albert Gallatin. … Had a 200-200 game when he passed for 221 yards and three scores, and ran for 220 yards and two more touchdowns, in a victory over Belle Vernon. … Led Ringgold to a 7-3 record and third-place finish in the Big Nine Conference. … Should be a highly recruited player next season.
Justice Rawlins Monessen Senior, LB
The two-way standout was an all-state player as a freshman before suffering a serious knee injury that caused him to miss his sophomore year. Rawlins became a two-way force for Monessen this fall. … Was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the Black Hills Conference, helping the Greyhounds to the league’s top seed in the playoffs. … Scored seven touchdowns.
Justin Watson South Fayette Senior, WR
One of the favorite targets of Observer-Reporter Player of the Year Brett Brumbaugh. … Athletic big-play wide receiver who caught 63 passes for a WPIAL record 1,568 yards (24.9 yards per catch) and 19 touchdowns. … Caught 32 passes during nine regular-season games and 31 passes in seven playoff games. … Named first team Class AA all-state at the Athlete position by the Pennsylvania Football Writers. … Caught touchdown passes of six and 64 yards in the first half of South Fayette’s 41-0 win over Imhotep Charter in the PIAA championship game. … University of Pennsylvania recruit.
Anthony Welsh Beth-Center Sophomore, RB
Beth-Center usually doesn’t produce 1,000-yard rushers because the Bulldogs typically have a bevy of talented running backs who share the offensive load. Head coach Ed Woods, however, has called Welsh a “special back” and that shows in the statistics. Welsh rushed for 1,336 yards in nine games and averaged 10 yards per carry. .. Scored 22 touchdowns. … Gained at least 100 yards and scored at least one touchdown in every game.