When South Fayette football coach Joe Rossi looked back at Friday's WPIAL Class AA semifinal game against Washington, the obvious was the difference.
"[Washington] had the perfect formula to beat us: Keep the ball away from our offense," said Rossi, after Shae McKenzie and the Little Prexies ran all over the Lions. "They ran 82 offensive plays and we ran only 41.
"They just kept grinding it out with 3- or 4-yard runs, then popped one for 10 or more. We just couldn't get our offense on the field. And when we did, we never could get into a rhythm. It was so frustrating."
Washington's running game ground out 458 yards, including 293 by McKenzie, who accounted for all four Little Prexies touchdowns.
"[McKenzie] is a phenomenal athlete," said Rossi. "He's one of the best around."
On those rare occasions when South Fayette did have the ball ...
"We didn't have the ball much, but we did have opportunities," Rossi said. "We stormed back to tie the game at 14-14 at halftime and had a chance to take the lead in the third quarter when we were trailing, 20-14. We had second and goal on the 5 and couldn't score."
The loss left South Fayette one win away from a second trip in three years to Heinz Field for the WPIAL finals. It also ended the Lions perfect season, as they finish with an 11-1 record.
"It's disappointing to get this far and have it end this way, but we have a lot to be proud of," Rossi said. "Our senior class leaves here with a 43-7 record over the past four years. And we won three of four conference titles. That's pretty impressive."
The Lions will bid goodbye to 12 seniors.
"We have eight of 11 coming back on offense," Rossi said. "We lose [wide receivers] Zach Challingsworth and Mike Fetchet, and guard Jake Carey."
Challingsworth is obviously the biggest loss. He is one of six receivers in the WPIAL who accumulated 1,000 or more yards. He finished the season with 58 catches for 1,190 yards, grabbing four for 112 yards against Washington. He scored 15 touchdowns.
South Fayette had one of the most potent offenses in the WPIAL. The Lions scored 554 points for a 46.2 points per game average.
The Lions' field general is expected to return. Sophomore Brett Brumbaugh completed his season as the WPIAL's top passer with 2,823 yards. He completed 154 of 245 passes for 37 touchdowns, and was intercepted only nine times.
"Brett started the last three games of his freshman year and 12 games this year and has more than 3,500 yards passing," Rossi said. "It's nice to know that we have him for two more years."
South Fayette's defense was also impressive this season, until the semifinals. The Lions allowed only 84 points for the season -- 7.0 per game -- and shut out six opponents during the regular season.
"Our defense is where we get hit hard by graduation losses," Rossi said. "We lose six of our front eight, along with Challingsworth in the backfield."
South Fayette loses Aaron Gross, Jake Carey, Dylan Witt, and Brad Haney on the defensive line. They also lose linebackers Dylan Nock and Pete Cochran. Mike Fetchet and Dylan Opar also rotated in at linebacker.
"We have some rebuilding to do on defense, but we're fortunate to have a good feeder system," Rossi said. "We have younger players ready to step in and take their place. They just have to keep working hard during the offseason to stay in condition."
Washington may have defeated South Fayette in the semifinals, but Rossi feels the Little Prexies will have a tough time against defending WPIAL champion Aliquippa in the title game.
"We've scouted Aliquippa and they will be tough to beat because of their size and speed," Rossi said. "They could move up to Triple-A or Quad-A and do well in the playoffs."