Rich Kolesar's first game as Laurel Highlands football coach was derailed by a pair of former Fayette County athletes.
The Mustangs delivered an early punch in its Week Zero opener against Washington to take a 7-0 lead before the Prexies responded with a flurry in retaliation in going on to a 48-21 victory at Mustang Field on Friday night.
The Prexies are coached by Albert Gallatin graduate Mike Bosnic and quarterbacked by senior Zach Swartz, formerly of the LH School District.
Swartz rushed for 108 yards and four touchdowns and completed 16 of 23 passes for 200 yards and two more scores to lead the way for Wash High. Zahmere Robinson contributed a pair of long touchdowns and rang up 158 total yards.
"They’re a very good football team. That’s why everybody picks them to end up at Heinz Field," Kolesar said of the Prexies, who won the Class AA WPIAL title two years ago. "They’re a great program. You saw that tonight."
The Class AAAA Mustangs got on the scoreboard first when quarterback Tyler Christopher found Deandre Cook behind the Prexies secondary for a 51-yard touchdown pass with 7:28 left in the first quarter.
"We had some stuff set up," Kolesar said of the play. "The quarterback made a great throw, the kid made a great catch. We've been working on that throughout the year.
"But there was a lot of missed opportunities throughout the game, a lot of chances we left out there."
Wash High answered with a six-play 55-yard drive capped by Swartz' first TD run from five yards out. Swartz scored again on a four-yard run on the final play of the first quarter to give his team a 13-7 lead.
Robinsson scored a weaving 39-yard touchdown after catching a swing pass from Swartz early in the second quarter to put the visitors up 21-7. Swartz then led the Prexies on two touchdown drives in the final 2:06 of the half, one ending on his two-yard run and the second on a two-yard pass to Chance Cohen with nine seconds left for a 34-7 halftime lead.
"I thought Zach did some really nice things tonight," Bosnic said. "He made a few mistakes, which you expect the first week. I thought he showed that he’s a threat to run the ball, too."
Bosnic saw much room for improvement despite the lopsided score.
"We’ve got a lot to work on, made a lot of mistakes," Bosnic said. "This was good, though. Get a lot of the hiccups out of the way here in Week Zero and see what we need to clean up."
Washington also suffered a couple key injuries in the first half. One was to running back Dylan Asbury, who was coming off an ACL injury suffered last season. The other was to sophomore running back Tayshawn Levy.
"Levy’s going to go to the hospital and see the extent of it," Bosnic said. "It was an upper body injury but we’re not sure if it was the shoulder or maybe collar bone.
"Dylan Asbury’s was a lower body injury. We’ll hope for the best-case scenario for those guys."
Washington scored twice on big runs in the third quarter. Swartz galloped 35 yards for a touchdown and Robinson added a 41-yard jaunt.
"Zahmere is a play-maker and a great athlete and a terrific player for us," Bosnic said. "He’s a threat to make a big play all over the field."
Robinson rushed for 64 yards and hauled in four passes for 94 yards. Levy rushed for 68 yards before the injury ended his night. Cohen made four receptions for 40 yards.
Laurel Highlands added two touchdowns after the mercy rule was invoked, both by Robbie Sleightor on a five-yard run in the third quarter and a 23-yard pass from Christopher in the fourth quarter.
Sleightor led the Mustangs with 63 rushing yards, played well on defense and also made a touchdown-saving tackle near the goal-line to prevent Cohen from scoring on a long interception return as time ran out in the first half.
"I love Robbie and what you saw on the field is what you see everyday in practice," Kolesar said. "He lifts that way, he conditions that way, he practices that way, and that's why he plays like that. He's just a hustling player."
Kolesar commended his team for playing hard the entire game despite facing a large deficit.
"Our philosophy is we work out really hard, we try to be a four-quarter team," Kolesar said. "We came out in the second half to compete, and that's what we did. We're going to finish games. We just got in too big of a hole."
Bosnic also praised the Mustangs' effort.
"I think they’re doing a great job," he said. "They’re well coached. They played until the end. It was a real good effort by them."
Christopher ran for 53 yards and completed eight of 22 passes for 115 yards and the two TDs. ShiNeill Thomas also rushed for 53 yards. Cook had two receptions for 65 yards.
"The atmosphere, the environment is great, working with the band, the cheerleaders, the student section, our team," Kolesar said is discussing his first game as coach. "We're just trying to get excitement around the school. I think everybody was excited, everybody kind of did their part. Unfortunately, we didn't win the game.
"But we got better, and we're going to try to get better next week, too."
Washington 13-21-14-0 -- 48
Laurel Highlands 7-0-7-7 -- 21
LH: Deandre Cook 51 pass from Tyler Christopher (Zachary Layton kick), 7:28.
W: Jacob Swartz 5 run (Chance Cohen kick), 4:20
W: Swartz 4 run (kick failed), 0:00
W: Zahmere Robinson 39 pass from Swartz (Swartz pass from Tayshawn Levy), 9:59
W: Swartz 2 run (Cohen kick), 2:06
W: Cohen 2 pass from Swartz (kick failed), 0:09
W: Swartz 35 run (pass failed), 8:09
W: Robinson 41 run (Ronald Brown pass from Swartz), 4:13
LH: Robbie Sleightor 5 run (Layton kick), 0:30
LH: Sleightor 23 pass from Christopher (Layton kick), 0:02