It was the only time former Georgetown Prep football coach Jim Fegan entered a game fearing for his team.

Fegan remembered playing at Woodbridge High School in 1977 in a rare meeting between top private and public school programs. Prep had beaten Woodbridge, 14-0, in 1976, and Fegan was worried about the ramifications of that victory in the teams' next meeting.

In the end, he did not have much to fear. Prep lost by nine points, but the team emerged relatively unscathed physically--and with memories for a lifetime.

"We had the players that year to compete with the larger schools, and I owed it to the kids to give them a chance to play at that level," said Fegan, who retired in 1995 after 36 seasons at Prep. "Those were clean, hard-fought games. And the kids from that team come back and tell me playing in those Woodbridge games, under the lights and before the big crowds, were their finest memories in football."

But opportunities like Fegan gave his teams against Woodbridge are becoming less frequent, and most high school football fans do not understand why. This was evident last season during a public outcry for a matchup between Seneca Valley and DeMatha, two of the area's top-ranked programs.

Some public schools are hesitant to face private schools whose conferences allow them to recruit top-ranked players from across the Washington area.

Moreover, Maryland and Virginia use complex playoff point systems to decide some (in Virginia's case) or all (in Maryland's case) of the teams that will make the postseason. These systems give points for each victory and bonus points for each subsequent victory the losing team records.

Maryland's system gives a rating to nonpublic and out-of-state schools based on their enrollment, just as with in-state schools.

But Virginia does not recognize private or out-of-state schools in its playoff system. Thus it will not count the game between Fairfax High and Paul VI, a private school in Fairfax, on Oct. 29. Fairfax's "power points" will be divided by nine (the number of games it plays against in-state public schools) instead of 10 (the normal number of games against in-state public schools).

Though Fairfax can earn an automatic playoff bid by winning the AAA Liberty District title, Rebels Coach Tom Verbanic acknowledged he is taking a risk by scheduling Paul VI.

"The kids were shocked when I told them we were playing Paul VI," Verbanic said. "But I thought it really made sense and it would be a really good draw. It is something the community will be interested in since [the schools] are only half a mile apart. It might hurt us, since we won't get any points for a win. But I can tell you one thing: There will be a lot of excitement around here the week of that game."

One potential matchup that would generate a lot of excitement is between Seneca Valley, a public school in Germantown that has won a Maryland-record 10 state titles, and DeMatha, a private school in Hyattsville that has won nine Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles and has been nationally ranked three times since 1982.

But Seneca Valley Coach Terry Changuris said not to expect a DeMatha-Seneca Valley game any time soon.

"DeMatha does not abide by the same rules we do," Changuris said. "They can recruit; we have to take players who live within a three-mile radius of the school. I get asked all the time why we do not play DeMatha. If DeMatha limited their team to players who live within three miles of Hyattsville, we would probably play them. Why would I want to drop a game [against a public school] we will probably win to play in an all-star game against DeMatha?"

Said DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor: "We would love to have a lifetime contract with Seneca Valley or [Maryland 4A runner-up] Suitland. There would be a tremendous amount of fan interest in those games.

"But I understand the situation those schools are in because of their power points," McGregor said. "Northern Virginia is different because the district winners get automatic bids to the playoffs. I would love to see Maryland expand their playoffs to let more teams in; then maybe we would be able to play" Seneca Valley or Suitland.

DeMatha has played several Northern Virginia teams, including powers Centreville, Lake Braddock and Gar-Field. DeMatha is 17-6-1 in those games, despite playing all of them on the road.

"We love playing those night games in Virginia," DeMatha senior defensive end Jason Lallis said. "The crowds are great; everyone is so excited to get out there and see which is the better team."

Sometimes, however, the large crowds and night-game atmosphere can be unsettling to a team not used to them. H.D. Woodson High, of Northeast Washington, entered the 1985 season ranked No. 1 by The Washington Post. Its second game was a night game against W.T. Woodson in Fairfax; it also was the first matchup between a D.C. public school and a Fairfax County public school.

H.D. Woodson Coach Bob Headen said it took his team almost two quarters to get used to the lights and crowd of 8,000 at W.T. Woodson. By then, the Warriors trailed by 17 points en route to a 30-2 loss. Despite interest from both sides in a rematch, the teams have not played since because they have not had the same weeks available, according to Headen.

"I wanted to play any team in Fairfax," Headen said. "And I thought it made sense the two Woodsons would play every year. But they never had another open date that fit our schedule."

This season, Friendly, of Fort Washington, and Dunbar, of Northwest Washington, went out of their way to have difficult schedules. Though Dunbar is the defending D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Conference champion, even Coach Craig Jefferies admitted that his schedule--Dunbar plays DeMatha, nationally ranked St. Ignatius of Cleveland and defending Virginia AAA Division 6 champion Hylton--will be "very difficult."

Defending Maryland 3A champion Friendly also plays Hylton, as well as two-time defending Maryland 4A state champion Seneca Valley and traditionally strong Thomas Johnson, of Frederick. Friendly Coach George Earley tried to schedule DeMatha but was unsuccessful, though he said he would try again for the 2001 and 2002 seasons.

"I wanted to bring some respect to Prince George's County," Earley said. "The best way to do that is to go out and play these teams to see where we match up with them. People ask me all the time if I am crazy for making such a hard schedule, but these games are great for high school football. I am hoping more schools will put things aside and do the same."

CAPTION: Seneca Valley quarterback Chris Kelley heads for a touchdown during a scrimmage against Good Counsel.

CAPTION: Good Counsel, left, and Seneca Valley line up to shake hands. Maryland teams tend to play only in-state public schools to improve their chances of reaching postseason play.