Seneca Valley, Damascus meet in battle of unbeatens; Rockwood leads Gaithersburg


Damascus wide receiver Zach Bradshaw (center) fights for yardage against Seneca Valley last season. (Jonathan Newton/THE WASHINGTON POST)
October 25, 2012
Game to watch: No. 4 Seneca Valley (8-0) at No. 12 Damascus (8-0), Friday, 6:30 p.m.

With a punt return and an interception return for touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the season-opener against Clarksburg, Zach Bradshaw started his senior campaign at Damascus with two scores before he ever lined up for his first offensive snap at wide receiver. The subject of constant attention from opposing defenses, Virginia recruit has had no trouble making the most of his touches.

Bradshaw has plenty of responsibilities for the unbeaten Hornets, serving as a two-way starter, kick returner and punter, but even without the ball in his hands, he knows he can be valuable to an offense with several other emerging playmakers.

Drawing an extra defender or two to Bradshaw’s side has often provided sophomore wide receiver Jalen Christian and senior running back Trevor Patton the space needed to produce their own explosive plays. Damascus will need to utilize all those weapons if its hopes to knock off Seneca Valley on Friday night in a Montgomery 3A showdown.

“It’s just as exciting” when a teammate reaches the end zone, Bradshaw said. “Even though I didn’t really do anything, I kind of did do something. As long as we score and we win, I don’t really care how it happens.”

Bradshaw has eight total touchdowns this season (three receiving, three on returns, one rushing and one on defense), helping Damascus clinch its record 15th straight playoff berth. The team can likely lock up the top seed in the Maryland 3A West by beating the Eagles.

But the Hornets remain perfect, in part, because they haven’t had to lean on Bradshaw as much to create offense, thanks to the rise of junior quarterback Chase Williams.

Last season, Damascus did most of its damage on the ground and many pass plays had Williams or then-senior Eddie Cooke throwing the ball deep to allow Bradshaw a chance to chase the football down. At times, the team’s best offensive option was to line Bradshaw up in the backfield and run it out of a Wildcat formation.

The Hornets returned nine offensive starters, and Williams has been one of the county’s most improved players this season, showing better mechanics and leadership. Through eight games, he has 11 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Against Sherwood last season, Williams was nervous and speaking so quickly in the huddle his teammates could barely understand him, Bradshaw remembered. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound wide receiver said the signal caller is now beginning to compare favorably in his poise with 2010 All-Met Connor Frazier, who led the team in Bradshaw’s first two varsity seasons.

“We’re just a totally different team than last year,” Coach Eric Wallich said. “Everybody’s a year bigger, faster and smarter.”

Christian — who picked up Division I scholarship offers from Virginia and Connecticut this week to bring his total to seven — has also helped with a team-best six receiving touchdowns.

Bradshaw took both of his catches for scores in last week’s 41-24 win over Whitman. In that game, Patton had three touchdown runs of at least 25 yards, and the Damascus offense reached the end zone six times on just 29 total plays.

“I just feel more confident running the routes, knowing if I get open, he’s going to get it to me,” said Bradshaw, who expects to play defense at Virginia. “Not that I slacked on my routes last year, but it’s a good feeling now like I’m not just doing it to do it. There’s more of a purpose to it.”

Rockwood leads Gaithersburg

After spraining his left hand and breaking the knuckle on his left pointer finger back in September, Gaithersburg right tackle Ben Rockwood had to get creative in his treatment of the injury. So before every practice and game, he first puts a glove on the hand and then wraps it with a thick knee pad. After those layers are applied, he has a trainer heavily wrap it all in tape, forming a club.

“I just forget about it when I play,” Rockwood said. “It hurts the day after, that’s for sure.”

Rockwood could easily quit on his team this time of season (he also suffered a high ankle sprain against Churchill four weeks ago), as this is the first Trojans’ team he has been on that is out of the playoff hunt in late October. Gaithersburg is 2-6, and has lost four straight. But the team continues to have one of Montgomery County’s best rushing offenses: Junior Solomon Vault has rushed for 1,087 yards and 16 touchdowns, and has run for 502 yards in the last three games alone.

The catalyst for Vault’s outbreak, at least according to Coach Kreg Kephart, has been the undersized (6-1, 225) but nasty Rockwood, whom Kephart believes is one of the best offensive lineman in the county. The senior has put off casting his mangled hand because he doesn’t want to limit his ability to block for Vault and he doesn’t want it to hinder his music career, which he said provides the real therapy for his injury.

An accomplished cello player, Rockwood is also the bassist for the alt-metal band EastDear Park, which embarked on its first tour this summer and just last week finished recording its first album out of Indigo Studios in Bethesda. For Rockwood, most days this fall have ended around midnight at the studio, where he has devoted all of his time following grueling football practices.

“I didn’t play bass for the first two weeks [after the hand injury]. Bass has been a rehab for my hand,” Rockwood said. “I’ve just been playing, and it’s just been doing better and better, because it’s so much movement… There’s no pain in music.”

Rockwood’s college football prospects are limited, but the right tackle isn’t interested in pursuing the game after high school anyway. He’d rather chase finding the right label with his band – but only after finishing the Gaithersburg season the right way. The Trojans will meet No. 11 Quince Orchard (7-1) on Friday, and then close the season with Wootton (4-4) next week.

“The juniors pretty much just have to build for next year, try to win these next few games, try to get the best record possible,” Rockwood said. “Seniors, I guess just try to make these last few games as memorable as possible.”

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