Brumbaugh, Watson named Almanac MVPs

Published Dec 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm (Updated Dec 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm)

In eighth grade, Justin Watson quarterbacked the South Fayette football team. When he suffered a concussion and missed two starts, Brett Brumbaugh stepped into the position. Once recovered, Watson returned to the lineup but not as signal caller. Rather as a wide receiver.

“I was open for giving it a shot,” he said.

When he hauled in a touchdown pass from Brumbaugh on his first play at the position, Watson was sold on the switch. “I could get used to this,” he thought.

While Watson and Brumbaugh grew accustomed to their new roles, South Fayette opponents never adjusted. They could never stop the pair. And, within four years, the duo had set new standards for passing in the region while leading the Lions to their first state championship for football.

Brumbaugh established the single-season passing mark for quarterbacks. With 3,917 yards, the 6-4, 200-pound junior shattered the WPIAL record. He is also on pace to smash the career passing mark. To date, he has 7,325 career yards. He needs approximately 1,200 next year to reach the standard set by Lenny Williams from Sto-Rox. Previously, Brumbaugh’s brother, Christian, held the record.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Brumbaugh set of the single-season standard. “But numbers don’t mean a lot.”

Victories do. In 2013, the Lions certainly racked up the wins; sixteen straight to be exact. According to Brumbaugh, the only objective was to get better. In 2012, South Fayette won its first 11 games but lost in the district semifinals to Wash High, 26-14, despite Brumbaugh’s 2,823 yards passing and 37 TDs.

“The first goal was conference, then the WPIAL and state,” explained the son of Maria and Randy Brumbaugh. “We stayed focused. We didn’t let anything get us sidetracked. In a football game or on the practice field we worked hard. We watched film. We broke things down. We knew we could be great if we put our minds to it. We collectively all pushed each other. We had tunnel vision.”

Watson agreed. He never dreamed he, too, would set a single-season record with his 1,568 yards receiving. The 6-3, 195-pound senior had 73 receptions for 22 touchdowns.

“Receivers all go into the season with a goal of 1,000 yards but the focus was on winning three champions and we were able to do that. It was a total team effort. It was not one or two players. It was 11 guys giving their all.”

Watson gave his all on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams. In the defensive secondary, he posted 54 tackles, 10 deflections, three sacks and one fumble recovery on a unit that recorded six shutouts, including a 41-0 decision against Imhotep Charter in the PIAA final. Watson also returned punts and kickoffs for the Lions.

“Justin was the best player in our league, maybe the area,” said Greg Perry, whose Seton-La Salle Rebels lost to the Lions twice this season; once in the Century Conference and once in the WPIAL playoffs. “No matter how many A’s you play in, he was the best skill player in the WPIAL. He was that good. Justin made South Fayette what they were.”

Perry gets no argument from Brumbaugh, who completed 260 of 379 pass attempts for 41 touchdowns this year.

“All I did is a credit to Justin Watson,” Brumbaugh said. “I would not have been able to do these things without him. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything without my wide receivers. My job was to get them the ball and let them make the plays. Justin is the best in this area if not the best in the state.”

Actually, both Brumbaugh and Watson recently garnered such acclaim. Each was named to the Pennsylvania Football Writers’ All-State Football Team. Both earned first-team honors and Brumbaugh clinched Class AA Player of the Year recognition. Additionally, both have been recognized as The Almanac’s Most Valuable Players for football.

“It’s a honor especially to be able to do all these things with your best friend,” Brumbaugh said, noting the post-season laurels make the season even more special.

“It was a terrific season,” agreed Watson. “The toughest thing is to let go of the friendships and knowing that I will never be able to catch a pass thrown by him to me again. Brett’s a great teammate, a great player. He doesn’t make many mistakes and you want to make all the catches you can for him. So what other way to go out than as co-MVPs and state champions?”

While Brumbaugh has one more season of scholastic football, Watson will play football in the Ivy League next fall. The son of Doug and Terri Watson was accepted into the prestigious Wharton School for business and will play wide receiver for the University of Pennsylvania. He does, however, entertain thoughts of playing professionally.

“My wide receiver coach (Marques Parks) once told me to train every day like you are a No. 1 NFL draft pick,” said Watson, who owns a 4.1 GPA. “You do that in any walk of life, then you’ll be successful.

“But, the reason I picked the Ivy League,” he explained. “If I didn’t have a future in football, then an education at an Ivy League school isn’t a bad back-up plan. It’s good to have options.”

Currently, Brumbaugh’s options include Akron and Toledo. But, his stock has soared since guiding the Lions during a challenging playoff run, which included a victory over Aliquippa, 34-28, at Heinz Field. In that WPIAL title tilt, against a plethora of Division I stars, Brumbaugh passed for 314 yards and two scores. He eclipsed those totals with 345 yards and five TDs in a playoff win against Karns City. In the PIAA championship, which featured as many as 18 potential Division I recruits, his numbers read 299 passing yards and three scores.

“Getting deep into the playoffs probably helped my exposure, especially playing against the teams we did,” Brumbaugh said. “I think I opened eyes. That’s what I want to do.”

In 2014, Brumbaugh wants to go back to Hershey. The trip may come sooner than expected as both he and Watson play basketball for the Lions, who captured a PIAA state title in 2010 Last winter, South Fayette reached the quarterfinals in the district playoffs and qualified for the state tournament.

“The goal is to get back to PIAA finals without a doubt and go 16-0 again (next fall),” said Brumbaugh. “But, Justin and I are already talking about going to Palumbo for basketball.

“Since eighth grade, we have been friends on and off the field. We have been together, all of us as a team. We have similar goals and I think that’s what sets us apart. We want to win.

“When we won the state title that was extra special. We were able to represent our families, South Fayette and the community and that’s the best feeling.”

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