They looked at each other and smiled, then revealed a defender's secret.

"People say we're overlooked like it's a bad thing," Old Mill defensive end Shane Rickman said. "But we don't mind it."

"Yeah," cornerback Terrell Ingram said. "On defense, we like to stay in the shadows."

Ingram, Rickman and their fellow defenders won't have that luxury this weekend in Anne Arundel County's biggest football game of the season. When Old Mill visits Broadneck tomorrow night at 7 in the 4A East Region final, the outcome is bound to come down to defense -- to underrated, under-appreciated defense.

Both teams have advanced this far thanks largely to their defense. Broadneck's blitz-heavy group has given up less than a touchdown per game; Old Mill allows 11 points per game, but has forced more turnovers than any team in the county.

"They say defense wins championships," Ingram said. "Well, it's getting to be time to win a championship right now."

And both defenses are capable of dominating, as evidenced in their first-round games last weekend.

Old Mill gave up just 16 points to Arundel, a pass-heavy team that scored 300 points this season. In the second half, Old Mill blitzed often, holding Arundel scoreless and creating two interceptions in a 29-16 win.

"Our defense won this game," Old Mill Coach Mike Marcus said. "That's why we're still going to keep playing."

Broadneck gave up eight points to Patuxent, but was in charge throughout the game. The Bruins allowed less than 50 yards of total offense in the first half. Thanks to sacks and turnovers, the defense also hand-fed the offense great field position. "Our defense dominated," Broadneck Coach Jeff Herrick said after the 37-8 victory. "And that's what it needs to do."

Broadneck and Old Mill, though, accomplish similar results with drastically different approaches. The Bruins blitz often and move around at the line of scrimmage before the snap. They have players capable of getting after a quarterback; among them are T.J. Zaleski, Rob Deaton and Rob Eslin.

"We can shut anybody down," Deaton said. "We know that's our job, and we'll do anything to finish it."

The biggest challenge in coaching the Broadneck defense might be getting it to slow down. In the late minutes of the Bruins' blowout win over Patuxent, five Bruins still jumped in on almost every tackle. Herrick nearly lost his voice yelling for them to relax.

And Friday, they may be flat-out unmanageable. The Bruins have waited a month for another chance to stop Ryan Callahan, Old Mill's junior running back who has amassed more than 2,000 yards this season -- including 191 in one game against Broadneck. No team has held Callahan under 100 yards.

"We can do that," Zaleski said. "And if we do, it's going to be a good night."

Old Mill's defense has similarly big designs. It allowed Broadneck running back Brandon Johnson to gain a school-record 251 yards when the two teams played in mid-October. "That won't happen again," Rickman said. "When we learn a lesson, we never forget it."

Take one defensive series against Arundel: An over-eager Ingram bit on a play-action fake and got beaten for a 15-yard reception. Two plays later, on a similar play call, he dropped farther back into coverage and batted down a potential touchdown.

"This is the time of year when you just have to step up," Ingram said. "You have to be smart, but also take some chances. Basically, you've got to play your heart out on defense. You can't have anything that you're trying to hide."

Tyrone Johnson of Broadneck has a good handle on Old Mill's Ryan Callahan.