de-fense -- 1 the act or power of defending, or guarding against attack, harm, or danger, 2 something that defends; means of or resources for protection, 3 the side that is defending in any contest.

-- Webster's New World Dictionary, 1988.

de-fense -- 56 points allowed, nine shutouts in 14 games.

-- T.C. Williams High School, 1986.

de-fense -- 27 points allowed, four shutouts in eight games.

-- West Potomac High School, 1990.

There is really no secret to playing successful football at the high school level. Long passes are exciting, breakaway running backs are electrifying and touchdowns are exhilarating.

But, defense wins. Look no further than the two teams that dominated the region in the 1980's, T.C. Williams and West Potomac.

"All championship teams play good defense. That's just a must," said T.C. Williams Coach Glenn Furman. "We have a little motto around here, 'Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.'"

West Potomac Coach Danny Meier agrees. A year ago, the Wolverines surrendered only 80 points in 14 victories as they marched to their first state title. In eight games this season, Meier's team is 6-2 and has allowed only 27 points, including four shutouts.

"I think in any sport, as long as you're playing good defense you're going to be in the ball game," said Meier, whose teams have allowed only an average of 8.5 points per game in the five-plus years that West Potomac has been open. "It give you a lot of opportunities. In high school particularly, it takes a little longer to get the offense on track but as long as you're playing good defense you'll be in any game."

At T.C. Williams defensive pride is the cornerstone of the region's most successful program. Currently the top-ranked team in the state, the Titans are known for their intimidating, hard-hitting defense and have allowed an average of only 7 points per game in Furman's nine years at the helm.

"Our defensive philosphy is, let's make it happen, let's get the big play," said Furman, whose teams have compiled a mark of 85-17-2 with two state titles. "I think our defense is feared. When teams play T.C. Williams they're concerned with our {offensive} backs but what really scares them is that our defense can dominate them."

T.C. Williams' defensive statistics are as staggering as a Titan gang-tackle. In Furman's 104 games as coach, the Titans have recorded 34 shutouts and 70 times have held the oppositon to less than 10 points. The most points in a season T.C. has allowed in the past 9 years is 124 in 1985. That year the Titans were 12-2 and lost to Hampton in the state championship game.

In the two state championship years (1984 and 1987) the Titans played 28 games and gave up only 118 points, an average of 4.2 points per game. They had 16 shutouts.

"You get caught up in defensing {T.C. Williams'} veer {offense}," said Meier, on preparing to play the Titans. "But the thing with them is trying to score on them. The heck with trying to stop them."

West Potomac has a very structured defensive approach while T.C. Williams plays a much looser, free-lancing variety. But, in each case, the results are stunning. And though their approaches are different, both coaches agree that the key to a strong defense is often attitude before attributes.

"It's not necessarily where you line up on defense -- it's who you line up on defense. In our first day in full pads I tell {the players} we'll take the 11 most aggressive, hard-hitting people and we'll put them on defense. We'll figure out where later," said Meier. "We don't worry about the attributes as far as speed or strength. We just look for the aggressive personality."

"We build our defense on quickness and a hard-hitting approach," Furman said. "There's really no other way. We don't necessarily go on physical size. You've got to be a hard-hitter to play defense at T.C. Williams."

Despite differences in school size, league affiliation and offensive philosophies, it seems there is a universal equation -- a decent offense plus a strong defense equals a winning season.

Unbeaten Potomac leads the Commonwealth District and boasts the league's best defense, surrendering just 27 points. Broad Run, on the strength of a defense that has allowed only 41 points in 7 games, is on top of the Northwestern District. And Chancellor, in only its third year as a school, is riding its defense to the Battlefield District title.

"It's not easier or harder to find defensive players -- it's just a certain mentality," said Chancellor Coach Scott Miller, whose team is tied with Orange for the Battlefield District lead. "Many people think of football as an offensive game but all of my assistants coach defense. If we have a kid who can tackle and is a good athlete, he plays defense."

Where athletes may have once sought the glamour of scoring the winning touchdown or making the big catch, today they increasingly take pride in preventing them. As the statistics show, the perennial powers annually have the top defenses and with most winning traditions developes the defensive tradition.

"It's a tradition at T.C. Williams. It's called 'Big D.' We set defensive goals and we play for the shutout," said Furman. "I tell them if you're a defensive player at T.C. Williams, you're a heckuva good football player."

"It's become a tradition around here and each year we set a goal to give up the least amount of points in the region," said Meier. "We built the program around defense and the kids take an awful lot of pride in playing defense."

Fauquier, of the Commonwealth District, has won three straight Northwestern Region titles and draws much attention to its confusing, multiple-formation, misdirection offense. But it is the Falcon defense that has kept them on top.

"Fauquier gets a lot of ink for their offense but year in and year out they have a very strong defense," said Potomac Coach Bill Brown. "Teams that are successful consistently have real strong defensive teams."

Last year, Fauquier surrendered only 56 points (21 in the last game) in 13 games and recorded a staggering nine shutouts. This season they have allowed 54 points and are 6-1. For Coach John Chmara the reason for emphasizing defense is basic.

"We've been fortunate the last few years to be able to break the long plays but we depend on our defense," said Chmara. "If the other team doesn't score, they certainly can't win."