Football openers, especially at Wash High, always ‘special’

August 28, 2014
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter Canon-McMillan head coach Ron Coder, left, joins the team for laps around the field at the beginning of preseason practice. The Big Macs open the season tonight with a league game, at Mt. Lebanon in the Class AAAA Southeastern Conference.
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They show up in droves at Wash High School Stadium wearing blue and black to create an atmosphere that rivals any high school football game in Western Pennsylvania.

In a community where headlines are often dominated by controversy, violence and criminal trials, it is football that draws the people of Washington together. Kids grow up around the game of football, flocking to the stadium on Friday nights with dreams of sending the capacity crowd to its feet with one pass, catch, run or tackle.

With one of the richest traditions in the WPIAL, Wash High has football fans who call themselves Prexie Nation, and it will be out in full force tonight as the 2014 season kicks off.

While Wash High’s players thrive in the loud, raucous atmosphere under the lights, opposing teams feel the presence and pressure of a fanbase whose emotions are often dictated by the outcome on the field.

The Prexies are 12-1 in regular-season games at home over the last three seasons and their latest guest is prepared for a difficult game. Derry, which dropped down from Class AAA to the Class AA Interstate Conference, will square off against Wash High tonight at 7 p.m.

Junior running back/defensive back Jordan West, who scored nine touchdowns last season, loves the warm embrace of the home crowd every time he crosses the goal line. It’s a feeling, he says, that is unmatchable.

“Wash High football is such a tradition,” West said. “This community is so supportive and the fans are great. I love playing at Wash High. There’s nothing like scoring a touchdown in that stadium.”

Coming off a 7-3 season and a first round playoff exit, the Prexies are hoping the Trojans won’t experience a trip into the end zone. The wish is not a long shot as Derry did not score more than 13 points in any game during a winless 2013 season.

New head coach Tim Sweeney installed an offense that relies on a strong passing game in a pro-style system with a large offensive line. The style is contrasting to Wash High’s, which is a run-first attack. The Prexies throw the football to catch defenses off balance.

West and senior Malik Wells are the catalysts to the Prexies’ offense, but for the second straight season, Wash High almost lost one of its running backs to a serious injury. West broke the fourth metacarpal in his left hand in last week’s scrimmage against Albert Gallatin after taking a hit from a linebacker.

Initial tests indicated a severe break that would require surgery and a minimum of six weeks of recovery time. West and Wash High received good news Monday when doctors informed the junior that it was a minor break and he could play tonight against Derry while wearing a cast.

“I feel like there’s no way (Derry) can block us. We can run the ball and our receivers will be able to make plays,” Wells said. “This is a game in which we can really make a statement.”

In Shai McKenzie’s absence last season, the duo combined for 1,085 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.

“Teams never know what they are going to get with us in the backfield,” West said. “Sometimes I can line up at fullback or Malik will be there. We can run it right at you or spread it out. We’ll run a lot but teams don’t know if we’ll go up the middle or to the outside and we have the same running style.”

While Wash High’s offenses of the past have been run-heavy, senior quarterback Jonathan Spina will get the opportunity to exploit defenses with the speed of senior wide receiver DeQuay Isbell and junior Jarell Dates, as well as junior tight end Nate Swart, who stands at 6-5 and will prevent defenses from doubling the Prexies’ outside receivers.

Isbell, who was a member of the Prexies’ PIAA Class AA championship 3,200-meter relay team, is a problem for defenses with his 6-2 frame.

“DeQuay is big-time. He’s quick and he can jump to go grab balls,” West said. “Not many people in our conference are going to be able to cover him.”

Derry is an unfamiliar test for Wash High, which is well-equipped to face an opponent with size. The Prexies have one of the most formidable lines in the Interstate Conference with a pass rush on defense that could disrupt the Trojans’ vertical passing game.

It also helps to have a fanbase that is cheering relentlessly with each play.

“It’s one of those places in Western Pa. that is special,” Wash High head coach Mike Bosnic said. “It’s a small community, football is very important to the people, the kids and the families. It’s a big part of the fabric of the whole community. They live vicariously through the football program. When things are going well, it makes a lot of people happy in the town.”

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