Marcus Whalen jumped into the arms of wide receiver Tymon Barnes, and they both fell to the ground after the final whistle blew Friday night. A little more than four minutes earlier, Whalen had fallen into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown as Thomas Stone defeated host Westlake, 20-14.

Thomas Stone had already clinched a Maryland 3A playoff berth before Friday's regular season finale. With the victory, the Cougars (10-0, 8-0 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) claimed the SMAC title, the 3A South championship and much more.

"This game was everything for us," said Whalen, who finished the game with 160 yards on 31 carries. "If we hadn't won this game, we wouldn't even have wanted to go to the playoffs. This is what mattered. I've lost to this team for three straight years. By 12, 20 and, last year, by three points. But this is our year. We are the better team this year, and we proved that tonight."

It was Thomas Stone's first conference championship since 1994 and their first win over Westlake since the Wolverines joined the SMAC in 1995. The Cougars dedicated the victory to freshman football player Anderson Brock, who died Thursday after being hit by a car Wednesday evening.

Last year against Westlake--a 21-18 loss--Whalen finished with 78 yards on 15 carries. It was the only time in 1998 that he was held to less than 100 yards. He became the focal point of the game last night.

"They've been beating us since I was in ninth grade," Whalen said. "Words can't describe what I'm feeling right now.

Westlake scored the first touchdown on a 56-yard run by Gonzie Gray in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Cougars answered on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Phillip Buddenbender to junior Morgan Fields. Mike Finamore's extra point allowed Thomas Stone to take a 7-6 lead into halftime.

Then Thomas Stone sophomore Mark Johnson returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to put Thomas Stone up 14-6. It was another big play for Thomas Stone's three deep return men--Johnson, Whalen and Finamore. For the season, they have combined for eight kickoff returns for touchdowns--three for Johnson, three for Whalen and two for Finamore.

"I knew [Westlake] wouldn't stop us this year," Whalen said. "We had everything moving on offense and defense, and our special teams, we just dominate at that. You can't kick it deep on us and not expect it to be returned."

Westlake scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14 at the conclusion of the third quarter. Thomas Stone took possession for its game-winning drive on a Westlake fumble and then converted a fourth-and-seven from the Westlake 17. The drive stalled inside the Westlake 5, and Finamore set up for a field goal.

But Westlake was penalized for a roughing the kicker play on the field goal attempt, giving Stone first and goal. On third down, with 4 minutes 18 seconds left in the game, Whalen plunged into the end zone from the 3.

"After a game like this, it doesn't mater who we play in the playoffs," Thomas Stone's Marcus Johnson said. "We just have to practice hard and be ready to play whoever."