Much about Friday's regular season-ending showdown between Thomas Stone and Westlake is very familiar. One thing, however, is very different.

For the second consecutive season, the Thomas Stone-Westlake winner will claim the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference championship. As was the case last year, the winner also will finish atop the Maryland 3A South Region points standings and earn an automatic berth to the playoffs.

But this season, the Cougars--not the four-time defending conference champion Wolverines--are in control as Friday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Westlake approaches.

Win or lose, Thomas Stone (9-0, 7-0 SMAC) will earn a playoff berth; Westlake needs to win to guarantee a postseason spot. Westlake had the upper hand before ending Thomas Stone's season last year with a 21-18 victory.

If the Wolverines (8-1, 6-1) lose, they still could make the playoffs, but they would need help from other teams. "If Thomas Stone wins, they are in, and our fate will come down to bonus points," Westlake Coach Dominic Zaccarelli said. "The way it looks, if Wilde Lake beats Mount Hebron--which they should--we could be left out by one point."

Though Thomas Stone will advance to the postseason for the first time since 1996, All-Met running back Marcus Whalen said the Cougars' only concern right now is beating the Wolverines. Whalen sat out last week's victory over Leonardtown to let an ankle injury heal; he said he'll play this week. "I woke up [Monday] morning ready to play," Whalen said. "This is the game we've been waiting for."

Calvert and La Plata are 12th and 14th, respectively, in the Class 3A points standings and have no chance of making the postseason. Calvert (7-2) has already set the school record for victories in a season, but even a victory against Leonardtown on Friday cannot earn the Cavaliers a playoff berth.