Washington High School fans held their breath when star running back Shai McKenzie spent several minutes on the turf after being tackled on the final play of the first half.
When the second half began, McKenzie took their breath away.
McKenzie's rushed for 234 yards -- including a highlight-reel 61-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the second half -- to lead Washington to a 26-14 win Friday against visiting Greensburg Central Catholic.
Washington, ranked No. 3 in Class AA by the Post-Gazette, barely outplayed No. 5 Greensburg Central Catholic in the first half. McKenzie, who led the WPIAL in rushing in 2012 with 2,689 yards, was held to just 46 on 11 carries, as his team took a 7-0 lead into the break. Washington held a 91-89 advantage in total yards.
"I just told the kids to not panic," said Washington coach Mike Bosnic, who guided his team to the WPIAL championship in 2012. "We made some mistakes in the first half and we were still where we needed to be."
In the second half, McKenzie took over, rushing for 188 yards. After having spent some time on the turf fighting cramps less than 30 minutes earlier, McKenzie took a handoff on his team's first possession of the half and brought the crowd to its feet with an electrifying touchdown run. McKenzie ran to the right side, broke a couple of tackles, reversed field, busted a few more tackles, and used a brutal block by one of his teammates to sprint into the end zone.
Asked if it was one of the best touchdown runs of his career, McKenzie smiled and said, "It was definitely one of the tougher ones."
McKenzie wasn't done. Early in the fourth quarter, he took a toss left and burst down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown. He capped his three-touchdown second half with a 29-yard run with just under two minutes left in the game to extend Washington's lead to 26-7.
"We felt pretty good at halftime with holding McKenzie to the yardage he had," Greensburg Central Catholic coach Dan Mahoney said. "Then we came out in the second half and he breaks that one. It kind of deflated us."
Greensburg Central Catholic lost to Interstate Conference foe Washington, 28-7, a year ago, and had its chances to extract revenge. The Centurions just couldn't get out of their own way at times, and couldn't capitalize on a handful of opportunities.
The Centurions drove inside the Washington 10 midway through the second quarter, but the drive stalled after four penalties cost them 35 yards. In the closing minutes of the first half, the Centurions got within the Washington 20, but couldn't convert on a fourth-and-2 from the 17.
Two of Greensburg Central Catholic's third-quarter drives deep into Washington territory ended badly -- one on an interception by Jarell Dates, and the other on a failed fourth-down conversion.
"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot," Mahoney said.
The Centurions scored both of their touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Chase Keller connected with August Shotts for a 7-yard score. Then, with 16 seconds left, Keller found Nate Stone for a another 7-yard touchdown.
Keller finished 16 of 26 for 238 yards.
Washington quarterback Jonathan Spina didn't throw the ball much, but one of his two completions went to Quorteze Levy for a 22-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Defensively, the Little Prexies were solid. Greensburg Central Catholic got its share of passing yards in the second half, but the Centurions did little on the ground, finishing with 40 yards.
Meanwhile, Washington's rushing game was in good hands, and not just in the ones of its star player. McKenzie carried the ball 21 times, with his teammates adding an additional 15 carries.
"We've been trying to get a lot more backs involved," McKenzie said. "I know we have a lot of good backs surrounding myself, and they did really good."
Just not quite as good as McKenzie.
"He's a special kid," Mahoney said. "He just plays as hard as he can. He's kind of in a league by himself."
First Published August 31, 2013 4:15 AM