Suitland's players gathered around their coach before their game Saturday. Nick Lynch had a quick message for the defending Maryland 4A champions, who enter the stretch run of their season without several key players.

"I told the kids this [week's game against C.H. Flowers] is going to be a real pivotal game for us making the playoffs," Lynch said. "I don't know if we should talk about that right now. But it is.

"We can't go back and change the past and what happened the first five games. We've got another second half, almost like a football game. Now we have four more games left and I sure would like to go into overtime after that 10th game."

With losses to Douglass and Gwynn Park, Suitland (4-2, 4-1 Prince George's 4A) likely will need victories in three of its final four games to qualify for the Maryland 4A South Region playoffs. Beating C.H. Flowers (5-1, 5-1), which seems headed for its third consecutive postseason appearance, would give the Rams a major boost. Otherwise, their regular season finale against Bowie could be winner-takes-all for the region's final playoff spot.

Lynch expects running backs Cortez Newsome (bruised ribs) and James Freeman (sprained ankle) to return Saturday. He was uncertain when All-Met linebacker Navorro Bowman will return to the lineup after reinjuring his right shoulder two weeks ago.

Are the Rams shorthanded? "We sure are," Lynch said. "We had to move some kids around and some kids played who haven't been playing all year. One kid [Philip Caldwell] came in and we put him at running back and fullback and he did pretty darn well. He did a pretty good job blocking." . . .

Saturday's other game of note in the county is Eleanor Roosevelt at Forestville in a nonleague game between the county's largest high school and its smallest, part of the county's blind-draw scheduling that has each Prince George's 3A/2A team playing at least one Prince George's 4A team.

"I saw them on tape the last two games and what jumps out at me most is their sideline -- they have more players on their sideline, even with their 11 on the field, than I have on my entire team," Forestville Coach Charles Harley said, noting he has 26 players on the varsity.

"What bothers me the most is you shouldn't be forced into situations like that. I've filled as many as five open dates before. This week Poolesville [a Maryland 1A school] is open. You don't think they would have taken me this week?"