Mike Bosnic wanted to make one thing clear to his Washington High School football team soon after his Little Prexies ended their season with a loss in the WPIAL Class AA championship game last Friday at Heinz Field.
"I told them that they can't let one game ruin what we accomplished this year," Bosnic said. "These kids had a great season and did a great job.
"They should be proud of how well we played this year and what we were able to achieve."
Champions of the Interstate Conference, Washington suffered a 34-7 loss last Friday against defending champion Aliquippa at Heinz Field. The Little Prexies, who lost to the Quips in the quarterfinals last year, finished their season 12-1 overall.
"It was a really tough way to end the season," Bosnic said. "But getting to that point is still a great accomplishment, and it was really exciting for the kids to play down at Heinz Field.
"It's a disappointing way to end your season, but we're still very proud of the season we had."
Considering Washington failed to make the playoffs during four of the previous seven seasons and had not reached the championship game since it beat Beaver Falls in the 2001 title game, Bosnic also was proud in the huge step his program took this year.
"This season really brought the community together," Bosnic said. "This community has been through some down times and the program had been down and not competitive at times.
"This season kind of breathed some life back into the community."
Washington entered the season as the Post-Gazette's No. 5 ranked team in Class AA. The Prexies cruised through the regular season undefeated and captured the Interstate Conference crown before knocking off Shady Side Academy, Seton-La Salle and South Fayette to earn a spot in the championship game.
"What impressed me the most is how these kids matured and stepped up," Bosnic said. "We had some great senior leadership and always played through any adversity."
Outscoring opponents by an average of 40.2-12.2, Washington didn't have to worry about escaping too many jams during the regular season.
The Prexies, however, did need a final-minute score on a blocked punt to get past Jeannette during Week 5 and Bosnic believes that 18-15 victory proved to be a defining highlight during the season.
"We got behind in the Jeannette game and struggled," he said, "but the kids never quit and found a way to win that game.
"Throughout the season, the kids stuck together. We were down, 14-0, to Seton-LaSalle [in the WPIAL quarterfinals] and the kids really played that game with heart and determination to pull out another win."
Star running back Shai McKenzie provided some of Washington's best offensive highlights. A sensational junior, he led the WPIAL in rushing during the regular season and finished the year with 2,683 yards and scored 42 touchdowns.
"Shai really showed that he's an elite running back," Bosnic said. "He's getting a lot of Division I scholarship offers and will be a BCS-school recruit.
"What impressed me the most is how much he continues to improve season to season and game to game. He's developed a great work ethic and has a great desire to be the best."
Senior quarterback Josh Wise also played a key role in the Prexies' offense by completing 38 of 76 passes for 598 yards and five touchdowns. Wise also rushed for 10 touchdowns.
"We had a great group of seniors," Bosnic said. "Our quarterback, Josh Wise, made a lot of big plays throughout the year. He was able to throw and run the ball.
"Jaylin Kelly, as a defensive back, played very well on defense and is getting some Division I attention. Then we had right tackle Rikwon Moore, who was a great force for us."
Despite graduating a large group of seniors from this year's team, Bosnic expects a few key returning starters -- most notably McKenzie -- as well as a variety of experienced underclassmen to help reload next season's roster.
"I'm excited about next year," Bosnic said. "We return a great player in Shai, who is one of the best backs in the state and even the nation. We just need some athletes who can improve through the offseason to put around him.
"We do have some pieces and weapons to put around him, but it's going to depend on if the kids work in the weight room like our group of seniors did during the past offseason."
First Published November 29, 2012 5:00 AM