It was hard enough for Thomas Stone junior Brian Sims to watch from the sidelines during the Cougars' victories over rival Westlake in the regular season finale and then again in the Maryland 3A quarterfinals. It became nearly impossible as he watched the games replayed on the local cable station.

Sims, who chipped a bone in his hip during the first quarter of the Cougars' win over Leonardtown on Oct. 29, got back in action last week, as Thomas Stone defeated Randallstown, 16-7, in the state semifinals. He says he expects to be 100 percent healthy when the seventh-ranked Cougars (12-0) take on No. 1 Seneca Valley (12-0) in the state final, scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium.

"I was dying over there a couple of times," Sims said. "It was even harder in the first game [against Westlake] because it was so close. I kept thinking that if I was out there, I could have made a difference. The second game was a little easier because it was a blowout."

Not only did Sims miss two big games, he had to watch teammate Marcus Warr play in his jersey, No. 73. Warr, who filled in for Sims on the offensive line and was moved from defensive end to Sims's defensive tackle spot in his absence, usually wears No. 25, but offensive linemen can't wear numbers lower than 50.

It didn't matter that Sims and Warr have known each other since middle school--or even that they spent most of the summer hanging out together at a local swimming pool--Sims didn't like seeing anyone else in his jersey.

"It was so much harder watching it on TV and seeing pictures of No. 73 in the newspaper," he said. "It made me feel like I wasn't even a part of the team anymore."

Sims is more than a part of the team, he is one of the big reasons the Cougars' defense has yielded just 95 points in 12 games. Since giving up a season-high 22 points against Chopticon in the season opener, Thomas Stone has yielded 6.6 points per game, allowing no more than two touchdowns to any opponent and holding eight teams to eight points or fewer. The team has recorded three shutouts.

An agile 6 feet 4 inches and 285 pounds, Sims is one of Thomas Stone's key defenders against the run, and he can pressure opposing quarterbacks. He has made 75 tackles, including three sacks and 10 tackles for losses.

Warr leads Thomas Stone with eight sacks this season. He also has 68 tackles and one fumble return for a touchdown.

Without Sims in the lineup, Warr was forced to play full time on both sides of the ball, limiting his defensive prowess. The speedy Warr (6-0, 190) rushes the passer well from the outside--he hurried Randallstown quarterback Archie Trader more than once last week--but playing defensive tackle against Westlake was more difficult.

"When Marcus is playing one way, he is much more effective," Thomas Stone Coach Richard Callahan said. "When he has that time to recover when the offense is out there, that makes him more of a force on defense."

Warr and the rest of Thomas Stone's defensive line will have to be at full speed Saturday. Seneca Valley senior quarterback Chris Kelley can take over a game by running or passing. He typically picks up good yardage running the quarterback draw from a shotgun formation, but is most effective when he is scrambling outside the pocket.

"We know we have to be able to keep him from running," Warr said. "I have the speed to get him if he runs and the speed to stop him if he tries to throw. If we can just keep him on my side, I can contain him."

Sims, who will line up on the left side of the defensive line, opposite Warr, said he is simply glad that the two will be on the field together Saturday--and wearing their correct jerseys.

"We're all into good-luck charms and whatever's working this season," Sims said. "My jersey--my number--that's my good-luck charm. We're ready. I think if we play to our top level we can beat anyone in Maryland, even Seneca Valley."

CAPTION: Brian Sims, shown during practice Tuesday, missed two games with a chipped bone in his hip, and was especially distressed when a friend and teammate was assigned his jersey. "It was so much harder watching it on TV and seeing pictures of No. 73 in the newspaper," he said. "It made me feel like I wasn't even a part of the team anymore."

CAPTION: Lineman Brian Sims receives instructions from offensive coach Wallace "Pie" Dent as Thomas Stone prepares for Saturday's state championship game.