It's easy to forget what is perhaps Southern Maryland's most dominant football team ever. It never made the playoffs.

La Plata enjoyed the longest winning streak in SMAC history -- 23 games -- over the course of three seasons. (Lackey tied that record in 1987.) Led by all-state running back/defensive back Francis Winters (who later played at North Carolina), the Warriors outscored their 10 opponents 412-82 in 1972. The next season, they went 10-0 again, holding a 363-49 scoring edge.

The Warriors won their first three games in 1974 before losing. The team went undefeated again in 1975. La Plata was the first SMAC team to go undefeated.

But because the Maryland playoff system was limited to four teams per classification, only the regional champion qualified. Strength of schedule was the tiebreaker, and in 1973, La Plata amassed 146.5 power points, a half-point fewer than Paint Branch.

"It was extremely disappointing," said former La Plata coach John Cox, who is the state director of the football tournament committee. "We had just beaten Lackey, 62-12, in the last game and had to sit and wait in the locker room to find out if [Paint Branch] won."

Cox said that since he began heading the playoff committee in 1984 he has "tried to expand [the playoffs] to get deserving teams in. How do you justify a playoff system where undefeated teams can't get in?"

The playoff field grew to eight teams per classification in 1985 and to 16 last year.

-- Alan Goldenbach