With a blanket of darkness, one that engulfed the nearby rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania, serving as the backdrop on a crisp fall evening, the players from the Washington football team saw the clock hit 0:00 and took to the field together, before a mostly dissipated road crowd, bouncing up and down in celebration.
There may be two games remaining in the 2012 WPIAL season, but the players knew that in that moment, they went from a state of uncertainty to a fully cognizant one, well-aware that the last 48 minutes molded them into champions.
Riding the legs of star running back Shai McKenzie, who rushed for 296 yards and three touchdowns, Washington remained undefeated and clinched at least a share of an Interstate Conference regular-season championship as the Prexies scored a 34-14 victory against Mount Pleasant Friday night at Viking Stadium.
"I'm the happiest guy in town tonight and my kids can feel good about this," Washington coach Mike Bosnic said. "They've accomplished something that will be there forever. But we can't feel too good about this -- we've got to get back to work."
McKenzie was just one cog in an overpowering Washington rushing attack that accounted for 381 yards, but he would prove yet again to be the most crucial one, something he established just a few minutes into the game against Mount Pleasant.
With the Prexies (7-0) taking over at their 31 after a punt, McKenzie took a handoff and burst through a hole on the left side of the offensive line, running 69 yards almost untouched for a touchdown.
"That set the momentum a lot," McKenzie said of his first scoring run. "I just knew that I had to pick it up and continue to do what I've been doing."
After the Vikings (5-2) responded with an eight-play, 86-yard touchdown drive to get within a point, Washington put together a methodical possession of its own, one which McKenzie finished off with a touchdown to push the lead to 14-7.
Quarterback Josh Wise added a touchdown to extend the lead to 22-7 heading into halftime, a lead that Mount Pleasant would not get within single digits of for the remainder of the game.
Washington entered the game with the task of having to neutralize one of the more explosive offenses in Class AA and was able to do just that. The Prexies defense limited a Mount Pleasant offense that had been averaging nearly 40 points a game to two touchdowns and 229 yards.
Overall, Washington nearly doubled Mount Pleasant in total yards (432-229), with McKenzie single-handedly outgaining the entire Vikings team by almost 70 yards.
With the win, Washington has now defeated its two primary challengers in the conference standings, Mount Pleasant and Jeannette.
Washington has only one game remaining against a conference opponent, meaning that even if the Prexies lose to a one-win Waynesburg Central team on Oct. 26, they will still claim first place in the conference by virtue of their head-to-head win against Jeannette, an 18-15 victory on Sept. 28.
Bosnic and his team know that there is still work ahead for them, especially in the WPIAL playoffs, but at least for one night, there's some time to celebrate a season-defining win.
"Finally, today, the kids kind of sensed that we had them where we wanted them," Bosnic said. "This time we finished."hsfootball