Thomas Stone All-Met running back Marcus Whalen stood near midfield at Byrd Stadium at the University of Maryland on Saturday night, his jersey caked with mud, his eyes filled with tears. The Cougars' 41-0 loss to Seneca Valley in the Maryland 3A championship game wasn't the way he wanted his high school career--or his magical senior season--to end.

"This is real hard," Whalen said. "It's not so much the score--at this point of the season, any loss is going to hurt--it's just so hard to know that high school football is over."

Thomas Stone wasn't expected to win the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title this season, let alone advance to the state championship game. But the Cougars won all 12 of their games--including back-to-back wins over rival Westlake--before the loss to the Screaming Eagles. They did so with a stingy defense and the one-two punch of Whalen and senior Mike Finamore out of the backfield.

In its 12 wins, Thomas Stone yielded 95 points while scoring 355. The Cougars shut out Northern, Wakefield (Va.) and Patuxent, and held La Plata, Great Mills, Lackey and Leonardtown to eight points or fewer.

Thomas Stone's problem against Seneca Valley was an inability to stop All-Met quarterback Chris Kelley and his cohorts, running back David Cavell and wide receiver LaVar Scott. But the Cougars certainly weren't the first to struggle against the Screaming Eagles' talented seniors: The victory was Seneca Valley's 39th consecutive, and it brought the team a third straight state title. The Screaming Eagles outscored their three postseason opponents, 137-28, setting a state playoff record for most points scored.

"That kid was the best we've seen," Thomas Stone Coach Richard Callahan said of Kelley, who completed 8 of 15 passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 152 yards and another score. "It was like watching a 21-year-old man out there playing. He made the touch throws, ran the ball well and didn't panic, even when we did get pressure on him."

Whalen was held to a season-low 71 yards, finishing the season with 1,920 yards and 17 touchdowns on 238 carries. He also returned two kicks--one punt and one kickoff--for touchdowns this season. In his final two seasons at Thomas Stone, Whalen gained 3,854 yards and scored 41 touchdowns on 408 attempts, averaging 9.5 yards per carry.

Finamore finished the season with 1,173 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on 154 carries. It marked the first time in Thomas Stone history two running backs surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the same regular season. Whalen has several Division I scholarship offers already on the table, but said he will take official visits to Brigham Young, North Carolina State and Auburn in the coming weeks before commiting to a school.

"There's no doubt we're really going to miss Marcus, but we'll miss Mike Finamore and the rest of the seniors, too. This was a great year, a great senior class," Callahan said. Then he added with a grin: "I'm not disappointed at all in this loss. This is the first time we've even been to the state finals in years. . . . Next year, I'll be a little upset if we lose when we get back here."

CAPTION: Thomas Stone's Marcus Whalen, right, and Maurice Neal, bottom, team up to take Seneca Valley's Rafael Mason down during Saturday's Maryland 3A state championship, a 41-0 loss for the Cougars.

CAPTION: Thomas Stone Coach Rich Callahan, right, and assistant Kevin Heider watch from the sidelines as their team suffers its first loss of the season.