As Westlake High School's football team huddled in an end zone after Friday night's game against Thomas Stone, a cheer went up at the opposite end of the field. The Wolverines, perhaps unknowingly, cringed at the noise.

Thomas Stone had won, 20-14. If Westlake had won, the Wolverines would have been celebrating their fifth consecutive Southern Maryland Athletic Conference championship at home in front of nearly 5,000 fans.

Instead, Westlake had to wait for Saturday game results to see whether they qualified for the Maryland 3A playoffs.

The loss--the Wolverines' first ever in five games against the Cougars--gave Thomas Stone the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference and Maryland 3A South Region titles.

The Cougars (10-0, 8-0 SMAC) are in the playoffs, which start Friday; Westlake (8-2, 6-2) was in a tight race with Wilde Lake for the eighth and final playoff spot. [The games that determine whether Westlake would make the playoffs were played after Southern Maryland Extra's weekend deadline; for results, see Sports, Section D.]

"I'm just at a loss for words," said Westlake senior running back Denis Hicks, who led the Wolverines with 104 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries. "I think we played the better game, but they came out on top."

Westlake was hurt early by poor field position, and late by turnovers. Thomas Stone started three of its drives in Westlake territory; the Wolverines started no better than their own 27 the whole game.

When they did have the ball, Westlake ran the ball well. Hicks rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries on the team's opening drive of the second half, as the Wolverines tied the score at 14 on nearly a seven-minute drive.

But the Wolverines struggled to sustain a drive in the fourth quarter. Westlake junior running back Recardo Evans lost a fumble with nine minutes left to play and junior quarterback Larry Johnson threw an interception with 2:47 to play.

Though the statistics seem to indicate otherwise, the Wolverines did a good job containing All-Met running back Marcus Whalen. He had 160 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries--not game-breaking numbers--but he had a key play with 56 seconds left, zipping through a seam and picking up a first down on third-and-nine from the Westlake 27.

"The kids are crushed," Westlake Coach Dominic Zaccarelli said. "A lot of the kids put the blame on themselves. It's not easy to be the first team to lose the conference championship. But I'm very proud of these kids. This is a tough young team and obviously they're not used to losing. Hopefully they can get into the playoffs and do something positive."