by Dan Feldman
Quarterback Nick DeCarlo, one of a few Gaithersburg High School football players elected to the homecoming court, headed to the locker room at halftime rather than remain on the field with other homecoming-king-finalist teammates.
DeCarlo never thought he'd win the crown, and he wanted to focus on the halftime message of Gaithersburg coach Kreg Kephart during a pivotal game against Thomas S. Wootton High School.
“He told us, 'They weren't going to be no easy walkover. We punched first. They punched back. We've got to respond,'” DeCarlo said. “He was telling us, 'We have to get that fire in our eyes, come out and punch first and be the last one to punch.'”
Gaithersburg punched first Friday by taking a quick 14-point lead, and punched last by forcing a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers. In between, DeCarlo won homecoming king — and No. 5 Gaithersburg beat No. 6 Wootton 20-14 in Rockville.
Gaithersburg is 5-0 for the first time since at least 2004, winning with star running back Solomon Vault very limited due to a leg injury.
“We're average right now, to be honest,” DeCarlo said as his dad, who accepted the crown on his behalf, placed it on the senior's head. “I think we can be very good.”
Gaithersburg might not yet be the kings of the 4A West, but they're far from the jesters they played during a 3-7 season in 2012.
Vault, who missed last week's win against Northwest, returning to full health could take Gaithersburg even farther. The Northwestern University recruit had just two carries for eight yards and one catch for nine yards, and he said he'd wait to see how his leg felt before determining his workload for next week.
“He said he was ready, but to be honest, I didn't want to play him,” DeCarlo said. “I wanted to rest him, because he's very vital to this team.”
Vault looked agitated early in the game, as he couldn't take the field more than a few snaps. But as he saw DeCarlo (10-of-17 for 117 yards and a touchdown) and running back Xaviyer Mosley (85 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries) hit their stride, Vault became an increasingly enthusiastic cheerleader from the sideline.
“We've got a lot of talented guys,” Vault said. “So, I don't need to play, because we can still be successful when I don't play.”
Gaithersburg, which won its first four games by at least 17 points, appeared on track for another big win when DeCarlo and Mosley touchdowns gave Gaithersburg a 14-0 lead after its first two drives. But Wootton cut the lead to 17-14 by halftime.
Gaithersburg's three-point lead became even more tenuous in the fourth quarter.
Mosley and Vault were out of the game due to injury. DeCarlo had thrown an interception on the previous drive, and when the next one stalled, Gaithersburg shanked a punt, giving Wootton the ball at the Gaithersburg 34-yard line.
“It was a good gut check,” Kephart said.
Avery Taylor sacked Wootton quarterback Sam Ellis and forced a fumble, which Anthony Combs recovered and returned a few yards. As Combs scooped up the ball, Taylor relaxed his posture mid-play, relaxing ever-so-slightly for the first time all night.
“I felt like the momentum turned our way,” Taylor said. “I knew we were going to score.”
Luis Vigil added his second field goal of the game, and Evan Barnes nabbed Wootton's third interception — Jake Thomas had two — to seal the win.
Wootton (3-2), similar Gaithersburg, had dominated on the field prior to Friday. Despite forfeiting its season-opening victory over Walter Johnson, Wootton had outscored its opponents by 29 points per game in four on-field victories.
Wootton coach Tyree Spinner said he knew this would be his team's toughest challenge of the season so far. All week, he told his players “dogfight,” and that's what the game became.
Gaithersburg, a little more seasoned, just won it.
This is the second straight game Gaithersburg handed a team its first on-field loss.
Kephart said last week's win over Northwest, which ended a two-game losing streak in the series, was bigger than this win, which extended Gaithersburg's win streak over Wootton to seven. But he added a caveat.
“The kids had more respect for Northwest,” Kephart said. “I think they've got a lot of respect for Wootton now.”
No. 5 Gaithersburg 20, No. 6 Wootton 14
Wootton (3-2) 7 7 0 0 — 14
Gaithersburg (5-0) 17 0 0 3 — 20
G — Vicco Bedell 36 pass from Nick DeCarlo (Luis Vigil kick)
G — Xaviyer Mosley 3 run (Luis Vigil kick)
W — JIbri Woods 77 pass from Sam Ellis (Eric Schumacher kick)
G — Luis Vigil 22 kick
W — Bryan Castillo 6 run (Eric Schumacher kick)
G — Luis Vigil 31 kick
Wootton — Jake Koplan 5-6, Bryan Castillo 3-5, Sam Ellis 4-(-20).
Gaithersburg — Xaviyer Mosley 22-85, Nick DeCarlo 8-44, Zavae Johnson 5-38, Solomon Vault 2-8, Vicco Bedell 1-0.
Wootton — Sam Ellis 14-39-183-3
Gaithersburg — Nick DeCarlo 10-17-117-2.
Wootton — Jibri Woods 4-101, Trevon Diggs 9-67, Jack Pykosh 1-15.
Gaithersburg — Vicco Bedell 2-46, Isaiah Rainey 3-27, Ariel Martinez 1-19, 5 Xaviyer Mosley 2-10, Solomon Vault 1-9, William Tearney 1-6.