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Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Wootton share playoff aspirations

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Game to watch: Bethesda-Chevy Chase (4-2) at Wootton (3-3), Friday, 6:30 p.m.

When Rich Noland took over at Bethesda-Chevy Chase before the 2009 season, the coach inherited a squad that had run a pass-heavy spread offense without much success. He installed a triple-option attack, and last fall the Barons showcased the run-first system on the way to their first state playoff appearance in 16 years.

In preparing for Friday’s game at Wootton, Noland noticed the Patriots benefitting from a similar switch. Coach Tyree Spinner scrapped the spread in his first year at the Rockville school in favor of a pro-style offense. The addition of more power running plays has sparked a team with just one playoff appearance in the past 20 years.

Both Bethesda-Chevy Chase (4-2, 2-1 Montgomery 4A South) and Wootton (3-3, 3-0) have Maryland 4A West playoff aspirations, heading into a game that figures to be won in the trenches.

“It changes the mentality of your players,” Noland said of the move to a rush-centric offense. “It tells them that we want to play a physical style of football. Whether or not you win the matchups in a given week, I think the guys are prepared to be a little more physical and aggressive when they get in the game.”

Bethesda-Chevy Chase has had an uneven season offensively, scoring one touchdown or fewer in half its games. The team could be without its top two running backs against Wootton with seniors Cory Applequist (hip) and John Sieber (hamstring) battling injuries this week.

Holding the fourth spot in the Maryland 4A West standings, the Barons are in better shape than a season ago when they needed to win their final four games to grab the region’s fourth and final playoff spot. After this week, their final three opponents currently have combined for four victories.

Wootton — which made its last playoff appearance in 2008 — sits at No. 6 in the region after falling to Blake, 22-14, last week. Freshman Trevon Diggs has provided a boost with a team-high 455 receiving yards and the Patriots will equal their 2011 win total with their next victory, but they have yet to beat a team with a winning record this season.

Game to watch: Northwest (4-2) at Gaithersburg (2-4), Saturday, 1 p.m.

Gaithersburg Coach Kreg Kephart calls Northwest senior Matty Callahan “hands down the best quarterback in Montgomery County,” but his major concern about Saturday’s Montgomery 4A West matchup against the Jaguars is handling the seven and eight-man defensive fronts that Northwest will likely throw at Gaithersburg junior running back Solomon Vault.

Gaithersburg has lost two straight, and in addition to losing six starters to injuries this season, the Trojans are down to their third-string quarterback, sophomore Kamonte Carter, who threw for 58 yards and had an interception in a 13-12 loss to Clarksburg last week.

Gaithersburg’s struggles to throw the ball allowed Clarksburg (1-5) to key on Vault, who responded in the same fashion he has all season long: 32 carries, 208 yards and two touchdowns, including a 52-yard score in the fourth quarter that gave the Trojans a chance to tie the game. The two-point conversion passing attempt failed.

“A running back runs for 200 yards, usually you’re going to win most of your football games,” said Kephart.

It was Vault’s third consecutive game that he rushed for 100 yards or more, and his third multi-touchdown game this season. Vault needs just 207 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing, which would mark the second consecutive season doing so.

Kephart doesn’t expect those yards to come easy against the Jaguars veteran defense. Northwest hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Seneca Valley’s Kevin Joppy ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns in the second game of the season, which resulted in a 26-13 win for the Screaming Eagles.

“I’m just hoping we can shut them down enough, and be able to hang with them and keep it close, and maybe be able to pull it out at the end and shock them a little bit. I don’t know, they’re pretty tough,” said Kephart, who is hoping his starting quarterback, junior Nick Decarlo, will return from injury this week to alleviate pressure from Vault. “I told the kids the other day, we could be 5-1, but we’re 2-4. It shows you what a fine line it is between winning and losing.”

Around Montgomery

After squandering a 17-point halftime lead last week in a loss against Northwest, Churchill (4-2) travels to Walter Johnson (2-4) in a Montgomery 4A South contest. The Wildcats are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, in which they’ve allowed an average of 40 points per contest. ...

Seneca Valley senior James Jones-Williams has received fewer carries this season with the emergence of Joppy, but he’s made the most of his opportunities. After scoring three times on eight touches in last week’s 40-21 win over Rockville, the 5-foot-8, 195-pound back is averaging more than seven yards per carry and leads Montgomery County with 11 rushing touchdowns. The fifth-ranked Screamin’ Eagles (6-0) travel to Blake (4-2) on Friday. The Bengals have won four straight games.

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