Shai McKenzie and Washington's potent running game proved to be too much for pass-minded South Fayette Friday night as the Prexies grabbed a 26-14 victory in a WPIAL Class AA semifinal playoff game at Chartiers Valley.
With 293 rushing yards and four touchdowns from McKenzie, Washington raced to an early lead, withstood a South Fayette rally and pulled away late to earn a spot in the Class AA title game Friday at Heinz Field.
"He's a great back and [Friday night] he proved that he's a big-time, major college football prospect," Washington coach Mike Bosnic said of his star running back after the Prexies raised their record to 12-0.
"He's one of the best running backs in America and [his] performance [Friday night] was very impressive."
McKenzie was part of a Washington rushing attack that accounted for 458 of its 505 yards of total offense.
Heading into Friday night, a high-scoring affair seemed nearly inevitable.
Both teams started slowly, but in the closing seconds of the first quarter, McKenzie rushed for an 8-yard touchdown that gave Washington a 7-0 edge.
Less than two minutes later, he found an opening and showed off his speed, bursting through a gap untouched for a 58-yard touchdown that gave Washington a surprising double-digit lead against one of the WPIAL's highest-scoring offenses.
After two South Fayette drives that took off just 3:15 off the clock, the Lions (11-1) tied the score heading into halftime.
With Washington leading. 20-14, after McKenzie's third touchdown of the game, South Fayette appeared to be in position to take the lead, marching inside the Washington 5-yard line.
But the Lions were unable to score from the 3, failing on fourth-and-goal.
"It was a turning point," South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. "You get there and score and make it 21-20 for our first lead of the game. That was a changing point."
Washington added another touchdown, McKenzie's fourth of the game, with 6:40 remaining to build a comfortable lead.
South Fayette entered the game averaging over 49 points per game thanks largely to the passing skill of sophomore quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, but Washington's defense limited the Lions to a season-low 14 points while yielding only 270 yards.
All that stands between Washington, which went 1-8 four years ago, and a WPIAL title is a powerful Aliquippa team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.
"It's a lot of motivation," McKenzie said of the matchup. "But we know they're a new team, we're a new team, and it's a new year."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: @craig_a_meyer. First Published November 17, 2012 5:00 AM