The game: Fairmont Heights vs. Northwestern.

Kickoff: Francis A. Tracy Stadium, Beltsville, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Admission: $4 at the gate, $3 students purchased in advance.

Last season's records: Hornets 8-3, Wildcats 10-2.

Key players: Fairmont Heights LB Darius Collins, DE-TE Jamal Vest and QB Keino Thomas; Northwestern OT Reggie Kemp, RB-LB Ricardo Dickerson, WR-LB Sterling Greene and QB Marcos Moreno.

Hornets' keys to victory: Getting production from inexperienced players at offensive skill positions. Fairmont Heights replaces all of its backs, including All-Met Brandon Haw, now at Rutgers. Thomas, the junior varsity quarterback last season, must direct the offense. Asked about his starting backfield, Hornets Coach Ralph Paden responded: "Do you know any backs that want to transfer?"

The defense, led by returning starters Collins and Vest, will have to carry the load.

Wildcats' keys to victory: In four seasons, Coach Ed Shields appears to have turned around a struggling program. Northwestern made its first playoff appearance last season and handed Suitland its only regular season loss since 1996. The trick for the Wildcats is to maintain a winning attitude.

With Moreno, a junior, making his first varsity start, it will be crucial for the Wildcats to be able to run behind a big offensive line led by Kemp.

"We have to be able to run the ball," Shields said. "They're a big, physical team and we just have to be able to keep the ball on the ground and establish the running game."

Shields called Moreno "a very good quarterback that happens to be an athlete."

Shields also expects a very physical game. "With them, it doesn't matter. Win or lose you're going to be hurting after the game."

By the numbers . . .

* 152-82: Career coaching record of Paden at Fairmont Heights, where he is entering his 26th season. In addition to Paden's lengthy tenure with the Hornets, assistant coaches David Sharpless and Stan Boone have been at the Capitol Heights school for 26 seasons. Assistant coach George Wake is entering his 20th season at the school.

* 2: Players who transferred to Northwestern from DeMatha. Greene and his brother, Alex, a wide receiver-defensive back, will start both ways for the Wildcats.

* 4: Number of games won by Northwestern in its first two seasons under Shields before going 10-2 last season.

Other Games of Note

Largo at Urbana, Fri., 7 p.m.: The Lions travel to Frederick County for their first game under new coach Eric Wade, and it will be a difficult one. The Hawks, led by QB Zak Mills, won the Maryland 2A title last season, finishing 13-0. Largo LB Carlos Watts (team-leading 12 1/2 sacks last season) and DT Duane Frost (50 tackles) must get pressure on Mills, who has verbally committed to Penn State. For Largo, senior QB Marcus Richardson gets his first start after backing up Ikey Chuku last season. His top target is senior WR Yusef Young, who missed last season because of a broken leg.

DeMatha at Dunbar, Sat., 1:30 p.m.: The Stags, who have not lost a regular season game since 1996, open the season with a potentially dangerous game against the defending D.C. public school champions. DeMatha will rely on several inexperienced players, including senior QB Brian Smith and possibly freshman QB Ryan Mitch. Dunbar, which finished last season 11-2, is led by junior QB Josh Cribbs and senior FB-LB James Lynch, who has verbally committed to Maryland.

Parkdale at DuVal, Sat., 1:30 p.m.: A matchup of one of the county's most experienced coaches (Parkdale's Bob Johnson is entering his 11th season) and one of its least experienced (DuVal's Joe Lewis was named to his position in July). While new to the county after being an assistant coach at Walter Johnson the past seven seasons, Lewis is promising success at DuVal, even though the Lanham school has not made the playoffs since 1989. The Tigers will get a look at one of the area's premier players in Parkdale senior RB Jason Crawford, a 6-foot-2, 219-pound bruiser.

The Schedule

Friday's games

Central at Frederick, 7

Crossland at Westlake, 7:30

Douglass at Northern, 7:30

Forestville at Col. Forge, 7:30

High Point at Friendly, 7:30

Saturday's games

Oxon Hill at H.D. Woodson, 1

Pallotti at Western, 1

Lackey at Gwynn Park, 1:30

McNamara at Suitland, 1:30

Parkdale at DuVal, 1:30

Potomac at Bladensburg, 1:30

Riverdale Baptist at Eleanor Roosevelt, 1:30

Westminster at Laurel, 1:30

Surrattsville at Rockville, 2

Bowie vs. North Hagerstown at South Hagerstown, 7

CAPTION: Parkdale's Jason Crawford (42) runs tough against Patuxent last season.

CAPTION: Northwestern Coach Ed Shields led Wildcats to 10-2 record, playoffs.