Danzel McKinley-Lewis has a new touchdown celebration, one that has become a running joke at Seton-La Salle.
But it’s no laughing matter.
“Now when I score,” McKinley-Lewis said, “I set the ball down and sprint to the sideline so I don’t get any penalties.”
After a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one for taunting after a touchdown, the Seton-La Salle star was ejected against Quaker Valley in Week 7. Under PIAA rules, that drew an automatic suspension for the following game.
Which just happened to be the one the Rebels had circled on their calendar. Seton-La Salle had to play defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champion South Fayette without its most dangerous player.
“That was a really, really hard game because from the beginning of the year we were focusing on South Fayette,” McKinley-Lewis said. “That was it. That was the game. Nobody else was a factor in our schedule. Having to sit out, being one of the top receivers in the WPIAL, that hurt. It was horrible because I knew if I was in that game I could have helped my team out more than just sitting on the sideline.”
Without him, South Fayette whipped Seton-La Salle, 41-14. The Lions exposed some of the Rebels’ weaknesses and ended their “#Get16” goal of going undefeated.
“After the game I took the high road and said it wasn’t that big of a difference, but it was a big difference,” Seton-La Salle coach Damon Rosol said.
“I think it had an impact, and I think this week’s game will show how much we missed him.”
McKinley-Lewis gets a second chance to show how much he means to Seton-La Salle (10-1) in its rematch against South Fayette (11-0) when they meet in a WPIAL Class AA semifinal Friday at Peters Township.
South Fayette coach Joe Rossi doesn’t downplay the difference McKinley-Lewis makes.
“It’s like taking Antonio Brown off the field for the Steelers,” Rossi said. “There are still a lot of playmakers, but he is the man when it comes to making plays.”
A Toledo recruit, McKinley-Lewis leads Seton-La Salle with 44 receptions for 620 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 196 yards and two scores on 15 carries and is the team’s top cover corner.
“The one thing people have to remember about that is once you take our most explosive player off the offensive side of the ball, it has a trickle-down effect,” Rosol said. “We had to move a lot of guys around who are not used to playing specific positions in our offense. A lot of them did an admirable job, but …”
But a Division I recruit should make a major difference in WPIAL football. We’ll soon find out whether McKinley-Lewis can make up a 27-point margin of defeat.
Although Rosol debates whether McKinley-Lewis deserved such a harsh penalty and takes blame for not pulling him from the game after the first flag and explaining the ramifications of a second, the senior said he “learned a lot from it.”
Rosol raves about McKinley-Lewis’ work ethic in practice, how he’s the only player who doesn’t come off the field in any personnel package and the positive impact he has made on sophomore Paris Ford.
But there was a black cloud hanging over Seton-La Salle without McKinley-Lewis.
“In the long run, we’ll benefit from the South Fayette game because we had to make adjustments, and we saw what life was like without Danzel,” Rosol said. “That makes us this much better for this week’s game. It’s a trip to Heinz (on the line), with the opportunity to play for a WPIAL title next Friday. The opportunity these kids got, to play a team that’s won (27) games in a row, defending WPIAL and state champions and their main rival, that’s a chance you don’t get every day.”
A second chance for McKinley-Lewis, who knows South Fayette isn’t going to “roll over and give us the game” but also believes that “I can help out a lot.”
And if he can turn a running joke at Seton-La Salle into a several sprints to the sidelines against South Fayette, McKinley-Lewis has a chance to get the last laugh.