Zac Morton sparks Whitman football; Douglass turns to Devonte Williams

October 29, 2012

Early in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 28-14 win over Walter Johnson, Whitman Coach Jim Kuhn called junior Zac Morton to the sideline. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound running back had carried the ball several times in a row, and the coach figured he could use a rest. Morton grabbed a squirt of water and quickly asked to get back on the field. The break lasted two plays.

Morton proved willing and able to handle the heavy workload, finishing with a career-high 283 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries against the Wildcats. He also scored as a safety on defense, ripping the ball from a wide receiver in the first quarter and returning it 26 yards to the end zone.

“It was pretty much the same [mind-set] like every play, every down,” Morton said. “I wanted the ball, and I never quit with it. I kept fighting for those extra yards every time I could get them.”

Morton has provided most of Whitman’s offensive highlights this season. While the Vikings (4-5) have scored one touchdown or fewer five times this season, the running back’s production has been steady. He has 1,262 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns, averaging about 25 touches per game.

Kuhn has individual stats for Whitman dating back about 20 years, and Morton already has the highest single-season rushing total during that span with one game remaining. The coach also believes Morton broke the school’s single-game record on Friday, topping a 250-yard performance by Rob Nykuli against Bethesda-Chevy Chase in 2000.

Morton’s defensive touchdown started the scoring and his two-yard scoring plunge in the second quarter gave the Vikings the lead for good against Walter Johnson (3-6). In addition to his career-high carry total, he also recorded two catches and an interception.

“I didn’t feel like I had 38 carries,” said Morton, who has topped the 100-yard rushing mark six times this season. “It felt like a normal night. I guess I got into a little zone with my teammates. We were focused on moving the ball and scoring touchdowns.”

Early on this season, Whitman turned to Morton out of necessity, and he hasn’t slowed down. The Vikings returned no regular offensive starters from last year’s team with Morton and senior Kevin McGowan, a wide receiver in 2011, the most experienced players.

The pair entered the fall in competition to play quarterback, and McGowan won the starting job. Morton, meanwhile, has been plenty busy, often running out of a power pistol formation behind McGowan that features three tight ends.

“We knew [Morton] was something special,” Kuhn said. “We just didn’t know exactly how we wanted to get him the ball.” . . .

Bethesda-Chevy Chase stayed in contention for its second straight Maryland 4A West playoff berth, holding on for a 28-27 win over Clarksburg. The Barons (6-3) clinched their third straight winning season — the first time the team has done that since 1957-1959.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase led by 21 points when senior Marquel Lee broke free on a 67-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but Clarksburg (2-7) forced a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers and stormed back. The Coyotes pulled within one on sophomore quarterback Joey Nacci’s touchdown run with about two minutes left.

The extra point attempt flew wide left, and Bethesda-Chevy Chase escaped with the victory when junior Keenan McUmber recovered the ensuing onside kick. The Barons moved from fifth to fourth in the region playoff standings with the win and will likely need to beat Walter Johnson on Friday to return to the postseason.

Around Montgomery County

Quince Orchard’s offense has developed into a juggernaut the last four weeks, as the 10th-ranked Cougars (8-1) have outscored opponents by a combined 178-16 in four straight wins, including last Saturday’s 48-13 romp of Gaithersburg. Dave Mencarini’s team has scored at least forty points a game during that stretch — and the catalyst has been Matt Choi. The senior quarterback was still a wide receiver when starter Mike Murtaugh went down back in September, but eight weeks later, he is the undisputed leader of one of Montgomery County’s most explosive offenses. On Saturday against Gaithersburg, he threw for 175 yards, rushed for another 140, and scored six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) — and can fully say he now has a command of the offense with the playoffs two weeks away. He predicted that over the next month, teams will continue to load the box to try and stop the Cougar’s running game — and will dare Choi to beat them over the top. He admits that would’ve made him queasy a month ago, when he was labeled as an “athlete,” and not necessarily a quarterback.

“Without a doubt, I love running the ball,” said Choi, whose team will close the regular season this Friday against Magruder (1-8). “But if teams want to put eight in the box and make us throw, and put cover one against our athletes outside? We’ll take that every play. I’ll take our athletes over any athletes that we play.”

Douglass’s Williams finds place in backfield

Douglass senior Devonte Williams did not play organized football last fall, so Coach J.C. Pinkney figured starting the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder off at wide receiver would help him ease back into the game.

That strategy stayed in place until Pinkney decided the running game could use an extra bump down the stretch. Since Williams moved to fullback two weeks ago, he’s been one of the county’s most productive ball carriers.

Douglass raced past Surrattsville, 44-6, on Saturday, rushing for 320 yards as a team on the way to its sixth straight victory. Sophomore tailback Aaron Johnson provided the scoring punch with three touchdowns on just six carries, but it was Williams who led the Eagles (8-1) with 93 yards on seven attempts.

Williams focused on running track last year, and Pinkney likes the fullback in his triple-option attack to have the breakaway speed to create explosive plays, which he had in 2011 during the team’s run to the Maryland 2A final with then-seniors Emmanuel Smith and Josef Hinnant.

Williams had played the position on junior varsity his first two years in the program, and Pinkney moved him back during practice Oct. 15.

Williams saw his first backfield action of the season in the team’s 60-0 win over Central on Oct. 20 and took his first carry 55 yards for a touchdown. He finished with 79 yards on four attempts. In the two games, he’s averaged more than 15 yards per rush for the Eagles, who rank third in the Maryland 2A South standings heading into Saturday’s regular season finale against Friendly (6-3).

“I’m kinda kicking myself,” Pinkney said. “Now I’m feeling like I probably should have moved him there a little earlier.”. . .

No. 17 Gwynn Park showcased an even more prolific ground attack, rushing for 399 yards and seven touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Forestville. Senior Joseph Hayman had 108 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Junior Eddie Gross also eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the second straight week.

Roman Stubbs covers the University of Maryland athletics for The Washington Post.
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