On football Saturdays, there are few colder spots on the North American continent than Magruder High School. Wind always arrives before the other fans, lingers longest and whistles loudest.

Perhaps there are other fields where, from certain angles, a quarterback could save precious seconds in the huddle by simply saying to his pet receiver: "hang a left when you clear the linebacker and head for the cornpatch."

It is possible for a badly shanked punt to flutter end-over-seam into a pasture, disrupting the blissful grazing of half a dozen horses. That did not happen last Saturday.

Sad to say, the only time the horses got excited was when some Van Halen passion floated their way at halftime. Otherwise, they were oblivious to the American rite unfolding just across the fence.

The Magruder Colonels and Chesapeake Bayhawks happened to be in this frosty setting; at the same time all about the country, on equally spartan fields somewhere in Maine and Minnesota and vast pleasure palaces in Texas, hundreds of thousands were part of the same special experience.

Sport rarely gets more touching than the high school playoffs. For most, it is the first and last glimpse of glory; rarely will anything the players do, on or off the field, attract quite so much attention.

Grizzled and hardened by the NFL wars, the Redskins' Pat Fischer said the championship elixir isn't so hard to concoct after all. Remember how much spirit you had, how close you were, how much you cared, in high school. It's no different for winners of the Rose Bowl, or the Super Bowl.

The Magruder cheerleaders were bravest during this Maryland Class B semifinal. Their warriors were padded and insulated, and many played most of the game; they were bare-legged the entire choppy two-plus hours. Not so much as a handwarmer could be seen.

A teen Colonel, John Bolton, pranced about the sideline and through the one-piece steel stands that held several hundred pairs of chattering teeth -- and more coaches than the Redskins employ, thinkers from Cambridge-South Dorchester, which had won the other semifinal the night before and would meet the Magruder-Chesapeake winner for the state title.

Bolton's Civil War-style duds have been passed from Magruder Colonel to Magruder Colonel for about four years. Tucked and hemmed to fit each new mascot. He was bedecked in a snappy gray coat and knee-length trousers similar to what the school's namesake, Zadok N. Magruder, might have worn during battle -- and sneakers.

It was Bolton who had informed the team and its hardy fans that their playoff appearance was assured. The season-long scenario had been both exhilarating and gloomy: because of Maryland's complex system, the Colonels could win all their games and still not qualify for the playoffs.

The traditional far-away nemesis, Allegany, seemed certain to get the Region I spot by a few points. Same as last season. Even a kiss of kindness by the grid gods, in the Wootton game, seemed a tease.

It is not possible for a team to be more fortunate than the Colonels had been against Wootton. Down, 13-0, at halftime, they saw the likely victory- clinching touchdown by Wootton nullified by illegal motion.

Later, Magruder got a pass-interference penalty on fourth down that kept the winning touchdown drive alive; the deciding pass slipped off one Magruder receiver's fingers, over a Wootton defender's desperate hands and into another Magruder receiver's mitts.

All in the end zone.

Still, that 14-13 gift seemed merely to make the annual disappointment somewhat harder. For Allegany had to lose its last game -- and to the team Magruder had beaten by 28 points the week before -- for Magruder to make the playoffs.

Incredibly, that happened.

Athletic Director Rick Grimsley learned the stunning news by calling a radio station -- and told Col. Bolton to break it as Magruder was clobbering Northwood.

Paul Revere's heart beat no faster. Bolton said he tried to look dejected on the way to the public-address mike, to heighten the drama; his perpetually cheery face betrayed him.

Another chapter to the storybook was the very real chance that an area coaching legend, Magruder Coach Roy Lester, would call it a career. He had recruited the University of Maryland back to prominence in the '70s, with such as Randy White and Bob Avellini, but his three years as Terrapins head coach brought just seven victories.

Before Maryland and after, Lester might lose a game only every other season once he got a high school program off the ground.

Lester is more than slightly cautious, the whistle-and-sweatshirt equivalent of the fellow who wears suspenders and a belt, and then keeps both hands gripped to his pants. Lester's tailback usually is just starting to limber up at 25 carries.

Ol' Zadok probably used his reserves as sparingly as Lester. Traditional rival Sherwood was being beaten by 20 points at halftime; the second teamers stayed leashed to the bench well into the fourth quarter.

Suddenly, with a few minutes left, they ripped on their helmets; yet they never set foot on the field.

Why such a hurry to grab helmets?

Some Sherwood students were throwing eggs.

For Chesapeake, many Magruder hands had worked for days to prepare a paper banner that ran from upright to upright on the goal post; it split, hopelessly tattered, seconds before the team was to charge through it.

In the stands, girls huddled in pink and yellow blanket, giggled and exchanged the latest snapshots and gossip. Some guys looked menacingly at the visitor's mascot and yelled: "Shoot the bird!" Some mothers wore their son's away jerseys.

Victory is the third concern of parents, behind whether their boy plays and whether he gets hurt. Other than a jammed finger, everybody for Magruder left the field healthy -- and 27-6 winners.

"Have you heard?" read an enormous sign paraded after Shawn Prather scored from eight yards on fourth down to increase the lead to two touchdowns, "We're Goin' to Byrd."

Beat the birds to go to Byrd. Conjugating the season, Wootton had been The Big Game; Chesapeake had been The Bigger Game; Cambridge-South Dorchester in Byrd Stadium would be The Biggest Game.

Smiles and class adorned the field. The Chesapeake coach, Frank Ewing, told his teary players to get used to this postseason aroma, that the younger ones would sniff it again. Then he made them shake hands with the seniors, who would not. Nearby, Colonels of every size and age were in celebration.

To the victors went the usual high school spoils. Leftovers from the refreshment stand. Could there be a more tender moment than Vinny Redmond skipping in joy, still in uniform, clutching a soda in the hand he was not pounding teammates with and inhaling a doughnut?

Truth is, there could be an even warmer moment: a player covered with pads and grass stains, with braces on his teeth, and a cheerleader who finally slipped on a coat. Hand in hand, they walked toward the school, talking in earnest about something surely cosmic.

They were alone; the wind was gone by now, in search of another game.