Washington High School has been like a running back factory.
From Brian Davis to Aaron Gatten to Shai McKenzie to Jordan West to Kurt Adkins to Nick Welsh. Finding someone to hand the ball off to has rarely been a problem for the Prexies.
No handoffs are needed when you are trying to find Washington’s biggest threat to run this season.
After Washington lost running back Dylan Asbury to a season-ending injury in the season opener, senior quarterback Zack Swartz has turned into a dual-threat problem, giving opponents fits on defense.
“It’s something that happened naturally to pick up weight for my team,” Swartz said. “It wasn’t necessarily something that was intentional. The more and more we’ve played we have just decided to (run with me) more.”
Whether it’s designed quarterback runs or making a play when one breaks down, Swartz has been a major threat for the Prexies’ offense that averages 49.7 points per game, scoring at least 40 points in all nine of their wins. Reaching that 40-point mark will be a test for Washington (6-0, 9-0) in tonight’s Class 2A Century Conference showdown against the ball-control offense of McGuffey (6-0, 8-1).
The winner will be the outright conference champion. Kickoff at McGuffey is 7 p.m.
“I think we have to limit the mistakes and play a physical game,” said Washington coach Mike Bosnic. “We really have to protect the football and play smart.”
That will start with Swartz, who has not only passed for 1,334 yards and 20 touchdowns but leads Washington in carries (73), rushing yards (760) and rushing touchdowns (18) as the Prexies have had a revolving-door backfield after the injury to Asbury.
No other Washington player has carried the ball more than 40 times.
“For us, what’s important with Zack is when (opponents) take away the pass or if they key on our running backs,” Bosnic said. “It becomes really important that he is able to carry the ball. He’s just one of those guys who can make athletic plays and has a knack for being able to do some special things.”
That’s not lost on McGuffey coach Ed Dalton, who called Swartz “probably the best player we have played against all year.”
“He makes them go,” Dalton continued. “A lot of times, especially in high school, kids decide they are going to tuck it and run or stay in the pocket no matter what. With him, he keeps his eyes downfield and makes a play on you. He has command of what they are doing. He is a difference-maker.”
Swartz’s athleticism made a difference in Washington’s 42-36 win over McGuffey last season, which was for a share of the conference title. On a broken play, Swartz received a lateral from Dan Walker Jr. and ran 35 yards to set up the game-winning touchdown.
What seems to be an under-the-radar season is very close to putting Swartz in elite company. He is 115 rushing yards away from becoming only the fourth quarterback in WPIAL history to pass for 5,000 career yards and run for 2,000.
“There is no better feeling than making a play on offense,” Swartz said. “Running is a last resort, but it seems to happen a lot. It’s something that comes more natural to me. I’ve gotten quicker and have been more effective at it.”
Joining Pine-Richland’s Phil Jurkovec, Neshannock’s Frank Antuono and Sto-Rox’s Lenny Williams – the others to reach the 5,000-2,000 benchmark – is an afterthought with a conference championship up for grabs.
“It’s just about being focused,” Swartz said. “We aren’t trying to make it more than what it is.”