As if to add a dash of suspense to a foregone conclusion, Philadelphia's Chuck Fusina threw a wobbly pass late in the third quarter. With Washington trailing by 24 points, Federals defensive backs Donnie Harris and Jeff Brown converged on the ball, hoping to provide brief relief to their afternoon of tragicomedy.

But instead of making the interception, Harris and Brown collided like heavily padded reincarnations of Laurel and Hardy as the ball fluttered past.

It was no joke, however--not to the Federals who lost, 34-3, before a crowd of 10,802 at Veterans Stadium and a national television audience. There were 5,741 no-shows. Washington's record dropped to 1-4, while the Stars' 4-1 mark tied the Boston Breakers for the lead in the USFL's Atlantic Division.

The Stars dominated the game in every way. A man standing in the corner of the end zone shot off a big gun every time Philadelphia scored. By game's end, he may well have acquired a case of aggravated bursitis.

"I was very disappointed in our football team," said Federals Coach Ray Jauch. "It's difficult to explain. I don't know why we played as badly as we did, especially in the second half . . . I think we have some people who still don't understand what it takes to win on this level of play."

So thorough was Philadelphia's control of the Federals, that Stars Coach Jim Mora rested Kelvin Bryant, his outstanding rookie running back, for the entire second half. Bryant, a former North Carolina standout whose four-year contract is worth $2 million, carried 13 times for 60 yards, including Philadelphia's opening score, a three-yard run. It was a good day for Bryant to rest his slightly bruised ribs.

His replacement, Allen Harvin, carried 16 times for 119 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown run. Harvin, a heavily muscled running back from Cincinnati, also scored on an 18-yard scoring pass from Fusina.

"I think we were able to control the line," said offensive tackle Irv Eatman, the Stars' first-round draft choice. "From the films, we saw that we could use a lot of angle blocking against their four-man front, and it worked. Variety-wise we used fewer plays than usual because everything was working so well."

"That was pretty much it," said Federals defensive tackle Ron Estay. "Instead of firing straight out at us, they pulled across the line. They have the best offensive line we've seen yet."

Mora described the Federals as "still improving," but Philadelphia seemed to master Washington, outrushing the Federals 242 yards to 70, and passing with variety and efficiency. Fusina threw 24 times for 16 completions (to nine different receivers), 197 yards and two touchdowns.

Kim McQuilken, who threw for more than 300 yards in Washington's 22-16 overtime victory over Michigan last Sunday and in the team's 19-16 loss to Boston the previous week, enjoyed no such good fortune today. McQuilken, seeking to retain his starting position when Mike Hohensee returns to action, threw 44 times for 20 completions and 177 yards. A number of his passes were errant, and he was lucky to have been intercepted only twice.

Hohensee and running back Craig James have missed the last three games with injuries but may play next Monday night against the Arizona Wranglers. But this week their presence may not have made a decisive difference.

"Days like this are no fun," McQuilken said. Someone mentioned that Philadelphia was supposed to have had a middling defense, and McQuilken shrugged: "I never saw that side of it."

Philadelphia took a 13-3 lead at the half on the strength of Bryant's three-yard touchdown run with 5:25 left in the first period and Fusina's eight-yard scoring pass to tight end Steve Folsom with 4:30 remaining in the half. Dana Moore scored what turned out to be the Federals' only points on a 39-yard field goal with 1:44 to play in the opening period. The Federals appeared ready to take advantage of a roughing-the-punter penalty called against Philadelphia with 1:53 left in the half, but their two-minute drill did not pay off as McQuilken's passes in the end zone for Mike Harris and Joey Walters fell incomplete and Moore's 34-yard field goal attempt sailed to the right.

If the first half was tough going, the second was worse.

A roughing-the-passer call against linebacker Jeff McIntyre assisted a 68-yard drive by Philadelphia that ended in Fusina's 18-yard scoring pass to Harvin with 5:31 left in the third quarter.

On their next drive, Sean Landeta punted to the Federals. As the ball bounced around, it touched Mike Harris' leg and the Stars recovered on Washington's 11. Harris, a wide receiver obtained by the Federals in a trade with Los Angeles three weeks ago, trotted off the field gripping his helmet in disbelief.

Harvin scored on the next play, an 11-yard touchdown sweep around his right end with 2:53 left in the third quarter to make the score 27-3.

The Stars scored once more on a seemingly effortless 77-yard drive. Fusina completed an 18-yard pass to Willie Collier and a 23-yard pass to Ken Dunek to set up Jeff Rodenberger's five-yard touchdown run with 4:40 left in the game.

If there was a bright spot for the Federals, it was Billy Taylor, the former Giants running back signed by Washington two weeks ago. Taylor ran for 47 yards on six carries.

The Stars likely are one of the best teams in the league, but that did not console McQuilken. Asked if he was frustrated after such an afternoon, he said, "Any other answer would be a lie."