The 2012 WPIAL season has been a benchmark one for the Washington football team, as it finished 9-0 and secured the top seed from the Interstate Conference for the Class AA playoffs.
The Little Prexies have been led by junior running back Shai McKenzie for much of the season and last Friday, McKenzie finished off a banner regular season with 324 rushing yards in a 69-6 win against Waynesburg.
With 1,902 yards, McKenzie was the WPIAL's leading rusher in the regular season and he broke Washington's single-season rushing record, previously set by Brian Davis in 1983.
Washington will play host to Shady Side Academy Friday at 7:30 p.m. The game site has been moved to Washington & Jefferson's Cameron Stadium, a facility with artificial turf, due to the rainy weather this week.
Entering last Friday night, uncertainty plagued the Elizabeth Forward football team.
As a participant in a crowded race in the Big Nine Conference for the final Class AAA playoff spots, the Warriors were given no guarantee that their successful season would produce any tangible benefits, particularly if they lost to Greensburg Salem.
In the face of that pressure, however, Elizabeth Forward responded, getting a 22-8 victory that gave it not just a spot in the playoffs, but also its sixth win -- the program's most wins in a season since 2000 and most in a regular season since 1991.
"This is pretty special," Elizabeth Forward coach Mike LeDonne said of the accomplishment. "Really, nobody except those in that locker room believed we could do that. I'm really proud of these kids. It's something they'll remember forever."
Indeed, as LeDonne indicated, Elizabeth Forward was not considered among the top teams in its conference when the season began. The Warriors were coming off a two-win 2011 season in which they lost eight games by an average 23-point margin. The year prior to that, Elizabeth Forward went winless.
LeDonne assumed the reins at Elizabeth Forward last season and helped the program snap what grew to a 14-game losing streak that dated back to the 2010 season. Many of his team's struggles last season, he said, could be traced to adjusting to a new coach.
"It was a new system, new beliefs, new ideals from the coaching staff," he said. "They had to get used to us and we had to get used to them."
Partly because they were forced to play so many young players in 2011, the Warriors have been buoyed by their experience this season. Though there are still a large number of sophomores on the Warriors roster, they have 23 players who are juniors or seniors.
An improved offense also deserves credit, as Elizabeth Forward has averaged 24 points per game, up nearly 10 points from its 14.5 average last season.
Friday will mark the Warriors' first playoff appearance in seven years and although they are excited for the occasion, LeDonne hopes they are ready. The Warriors will travel to Murrysville to play Franklin Regional Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Running back Dale Klobuchir was an instrumental force in Keystone Oaks' 40-7 victory against Burgettstown last Friday, rushing for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Klobuchir's performance puts him at 1,040 yards on the season, giving him his second consecutive 1,000-yard season after rushing for 1,120 yards in 2011.
Brentwood looked like one of the WPIAL's early disappointments three games into the 2012 season, going from a ranked team in the preseason to one with a 1-2 record in a matter of weeks.
Since their 25-14 loss to Imani Christian on Sept. 15, the Spartans have won five of their past six games, with the only loss coming to an undefeated Clairton team on a 56-game win streak. In its last five wins, Brentwood has outscored its opponents 187-40.
Putting up big numbers on losing teams has been a theme of Dorian Brown's career at Baldwin, something that continued in the star running back's senior season. For the second consecutive season, Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards, tallying 1,059 yards on the ground in 2012, a year removed from a breakout 1,200-yard 2011 campaign. Over the last three years, however, a span in which Brown has rushed for nearly 3,000 yards, Baldwin has gone 10-17.